Skip to main content

Full text of "The Importance Of Living"

See other formats

Atttoramt memorial ICtbrarg 



Accession Number 22521 
Call Number 


170 L631 




I n My Country and My People there were 
broad hints of an outlook on living which 
comprehends both East and West, and throws 
on American life the light of Oriental percep- 
tions. Now Dr. Lin offers for the first time a 
complete and matured work in this vein — too 
human to be called philosophy, too honest to be 
classed with so-called "self-help” books. Gaily 
serious, profoundly naive, cynically kind, shot 
through with a sense of comedy and backed by 
science, as well as by the thoughts of the Chinese 
sages of many centuries, it brings forth the salt 
and flavor and tang of life. We are in danger, 
the author says, of forgetting that we are ani- 
mals and that life cannot be separated from 
animal activities. Life doesn’t consist of achieve- 
ment, in making a fortune, in the mental sallies 
of philosophers or the imaginative flights of 
poets. Life rather consists in the enjoyment of 
ourselves and one another, of home, of rocks and 
trees and stars and sounds or, to quote directly, 
"in having a haircut once in two weeks, or 
watering a potted flower, or watching a neigh- 
bor fall off his roof.” Life is to be valued in it- 
self because we are living here and now, and not 
as a means to attain other ends. 

Vivid passages deal with the arts of loafing, 
of conversation, of smoking, of travel, of enjoy- 
ing food, of reading, of appreciating nature, 
with the creative impulse, and above all, the im- 
portance of all our daily habits. The book distills 
for the Western world the Chinese philosophy 
of three thousand years, in the hope that it may 
bring help to men and women who have not 
yet learned, as the Chinese have, that the mean- 
ing of life lies just in living itself. 







In English (except the last five titles, the following are published 
in Shanghai by the Commercial Press) 

Letters of a Chinese Amazon 
Readings in Modern Journalistic Prose 
The Little Critic: First Series (1930-1932) 

The Little Critic: Second Series (1933-1935) 

Confucius Saw Nancy ( A Drama ) and Essays About Nothing 
A Nun of Taishan and Other Translations 
Kaiming English Books 

Kaiming English Grammar Based on Notional Categories 

A History of the Press and Public Opinion in China ( University 
of Chicago Press ) 

My Country and My People ( John Day ) 

The Importance of Living ( John Day ) 

In Chinese 

Philological Essays ( Yiiyenhsiieh hunts’ ung') 

Skirmishes ( Chienfuchi ) 

The Lone Wayfarer ( Tahuangchi ) 

It Seems to Me ( Woti Hua), 2 vols. 




a JOHN DAY book 



All rights reserved, including the right 
to reproduce this book, or portions 
thereof in any form. 

Fourth Printing, January 1938 

Published by 
in association with 
Reynal & Hitchcock 


It is not truth that maizes man great, but man 
that makes truth great. 


Only those who take leisurely what the people of 
the world are busy about can be busy about what 
the people of the world take leisurely. 

chang ch’ao 




THIS is a personal testimony, a testimony of my own experience of 
thought and life. It is not intended to be objective and makes no 
claim to establish eternal truths. In fact I rather despise claims to 
objectivity in philosophy; the point of view is the thing. I should 
have liked to call it “A Lyrical Philosophy,” using the word “lyri- 
cal” in the sense of being a highly personal and individual outlook. 
But that would be too beautiful a name and I must forego it, for fear 
of aiming too high and leading the reader to expect too much, and 
because the main ingredient of my thought is matter-of-fact prose, a 
level easier to maintain because more natural. Very much con- 
tented am I to lie low, to cling to the soil, to be of kin to the sod. 
My soul squirms comfortably in the soil and sand and is happy. 
Sometimes when one is drunk with this earth, one’s spirit seems so 
light that he thinks he is in heaven. But actually he seldom rises six 
feet above the ground. 

I should have liked also to write the entire book in the form of 
a dialogue like Plato’s. It is such a convenient form for personal, 
inadvertent disclosures, for bringing in the significant trivialities of 
our daily life, above all for idle rambling about the pastures of sweet, 
silent thought. But somehow I have not done so. I do not know 
why. A fear, perhaps, that this form of literature being so little in 
vogue today, no one probably would read it, and a writer after all 
wants to be read. And when I say dialogue, I do not mean answers 
and questions like newspaper interviews, or those leaders chopped 
up into short paragraphs; I mean really good, long, leisurely dis- 
courses extending several pages at a stretch, with many detours, 
and coming back to the original point of discussion by a short cut 
at the most unexpected spot, like a man returning home by climbing 
over a hedge, to the surprise of his walking companion. Oh, how 




I love to reach home by climbing over the back fence, and to travel 
on bypaths! At least my companion will grant that I am familiar 
with the way home and with the surrounding countryside . . . But I 
dare not. 

I am not original. The ideas expressed here have been thought 
and expressed by many thinkers of the East and West over and 
over again; those I borrow from the East are hackneyed truths 
there. They are, nevertheless, my ideas; they have become a part 
of my being. If they have taken root in my being, it is because they 
express something original in me, and when I first encountered 
them, my heart gave an instinctive assent. I like them as ideas and 
not because the person who expressed them is of any account. In 
fact, I have traveled the bypaths in my reading as well as in my 
writing. Many of the authors quoted are names obscure and may 
baffle a Chinese professor of literature. If some happen to be well- 
known, I accept their ideas only as they compel my intuitive ap- 
proval and not because the authors are well-known. It is my habit 
to buy cheap editions of old, obscure books and see what I can dis- 
cover there. If the professors of literature knew the sources of my 
ideas, they would be astounded at the Philistine. But there is a 
greater pleasure in picking up a small pearl in an ash-can than in 
looking at a large one in a jeweler’s window. 

I am not deep and not well-read. If one is too well-read, then one 
does not know right is right and wrong is wrong. I have not read 
Locke or Hume or Berkeley, and have not taken a college course 
in philosophy. Technically speaking, my method and my training 
are all wrong, because I do not read philosophy, but only read life 
at first hand. That is an unconventional way of studying philosophy 
— the incorrect way. Some of my sources are : Mrs. Huang, an amah 
in my family who has all the ideas that go into the breeding of a 
good woman in China; a Soochow boat-woman with her profuse 
use of expletives; a Shanghai street car conductor; my cook’s wife; 
a lion cub in the zoo; a squirrel in Central Park in New York; a 
deck steward who made one good remark; that writer of a column 
on astronomy (dead for some ten years now); all news in boxes; 



and any writer who does not kill our sense of curiosity in life or 
who has not killed it in himself . . . how can I enumerate them all? 

Thus deprived of academic training in philosophy, I am less 
scared to write a book about it. Everything seems clearer and 
simpler for it, if that is any compensation in the eyes of orthodox 
philosophy. I doubt it. I know there will be complaints that my 
words are not long enough, that I make things too easy to under- 
stand, and finally that I lack cautiousness, that I do not whisper 
low and trip with mincing steps in the sacred mansions of phi- 
losophy, looking properly scared as I ought to do. Courage seems 
to be the rarest of all virtues in a modern philosopher. But I have 
always wandered outside the precincts of philosophy and that gives 
me courage. There is a method of appealing to one’s own intuitive 
judgment, of thinking out one’s own ideas and forming one’s own 
independent judgments, and confessing them in public with a child- 
ish impudence, and sure enough, some kindred souls in another 
corner of the world will agree with you. A person forming his 
ideas in this manner will often be astounded to discover how an- 
other writer said exaedy the same things and felt exactly the same 
way, but perhaps expressed the ideas more easily and more grace- 
fully. It is then that he discovers the ancient author and the ancient 
author bears him witness, and they become forever friends in spirit. 

There is therefore the matter of my obligations to these authors, 
especially my Chinese friends in spirit. I have for my collaborators 
in writing this book a company of genial souls, who I hope like me 
as much as I like them. For in a very real sense, these spirits have 
been with me, in the only form of spiritual communion that I rec- 
ognize as real — when two men separated by the ages think the same 
thoughts and sense the same feelings and each perfectly under- 
stands the other. In the preparation of this book, a few of my friends 
have been especially helpful with their contributions and advice: 
Po Chiiyi of the eighth century, Su Tungp’o of the eleventh, and 
that great company of original spirits of the sixteenth and seven- 
teenth centuries — the romantic and voluble T’u Ch’ihshui, the play- 
ful, original Yuan Chunglang, the deep, magnificent Li Chowu, the 



sensitive and sophisticated Chang Ch’ao, the epicure Li Liweng, the 
happy and gay old hedonist Yuan Tsets’ai, and the bubbling, jok- 
ing, effervescent Chin Shengt’an — unconventional souls all, men 
with too much independent judgment and too much feeling for 
things to be liked by the orthodox critics, men too good to be 
“moral” and too moral to be “good” for the Confucianists. The 
smallness of the select company has made the enjoyment of their 
presence all the more valued and sincere. Some of these may happen 
not to be quoted, but they are here with me in this book ail the 
same. Their coming back to their own in China is only a matter of 
time. . . . There have been others, names less well-known, but no 
less welcome for their apt remarks, because they express my senti- 
ments so well. I call them my Chinese Amiels — people who don’t 
talk much, but always talk sensibly, and I respect their good sense. 
There are others again who belong to the illustrious company of 
“Anons” of all countries and ages, who in an inspired moment said 
something wiser then they knew, like the unknown fathers of great 
men. Finally there are greater ones still, whom I look up to more 
as masters than as companions of the spirit, whose serenity of 
understanding is so human and yet so divine, and whose wisdom 
seems to have come entirely without effort because it has become 
completely natural. Such a one is Chuangtse, and such a one is T’ao 
Yuanming, whose simplicity of spirit is the despair of smaller men. 
I have sometimes let these souls speak directly to the reader, making 
proper acknowledgment, and at other times, I have spoken for them 
while I seem to be speaking for myself. The older my friendship 
with them, the more likely is my indebtedness to their ideas to be 
of the familiar, elusive and invisible type, like parental influence 
in a good family breeding. It is impossible to put one’s finger on a 
definite point of resemblance. I have also chosen to speak as a mod- 
ern, sharing the modern life, and not only as a Chinese; to give 
only what I have personally absorbed into my modern being, and 
not merely to act as a respectful translator of the ancients. Such a 
procedure has its drawbacks, but on the whole, one can do a more 
sincere job of it. The selections are therefore as highly personal as 



the rejections. No complete presentation of any one poet or phi- 
losopher is attempted here, and it is impossible to judge of them 
through the evidences on these pages. I must therefore conclude by 
saying as usual that the merits of this book, if any, are largely due 
to the helpful suggestions of my collaborators, while for the in- 
accuracies, deficiencies and immaturities of judgment, I alone am 

Again I owe my thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Richard J. Walsh, first, 
for suggesting the idea of the book, and secondly, for their useful 
and frank criticism. I must also thank Mr. Hugh Wade for co- 
operating on preparing the manuscript for the press and on the 
proofs, and Miss Lillian PefTer for making the Index. 

Lin Yutang 

New York City 
July 30, 1937 



I. The Awakening 




II. Views of Mankind 





III. Our Animal Heritage 






IV. On Being Human 









V. Who Can Best Enjoy Life? 

1. find thyself: chuangtse • 95 

II. passion, wisdom and courage: MENCIUS • 98 


iv. “philosophy of half-and-half”: TSESSE *111 


VI. The Feast of Life 


VII. The Importance of Loafing 

I. man the only working animal • 145 




V. WHAT IS LUCK? • l6o 


VIII. The Enjoyment of the Home 







IX. The Enjoyment of Living 202 











X. The Enjoyment of Nature 277 








XI. The Enjoyment of Travel 329 


11. “the travels of mingliaotse” • 338 

a. THE reason for the flight • 338 






XII. The Enjoyment of Culture 





XIII. Relationship to God 



XIV. The Art of Thinking 



Appendix A: certain Chinese names • 427 
Appendix B: a Chinese critical vocabulary 
Index of Names and Subjects • 447 


Chapter One 


I. Approach to Life 

IN what follows I am presenting the Chinese point of view, be- 
cause I cannot help myself. I am interested only in presenting a 
view of life and of things as the best and wisest Chinese minds 
have seen it and expressed it in their folk wisdom and their lit- 
erature. It is an idle philosophy born of an idle life, evolved in a 
different age, I am quite aware. But I cannot help feeling that this 
view of life is essentially true, and since we are alike under the skin, 
what touches the human heart in one country touches all. I shall 
have to present a view of life as Chinese poets and scholars eval- 
uated it with their common sense, their realism and their sense of 
poetry. I shall attempt to reveal some of the beauty of the pagan 
world, a sense of the pathos and beauty and terror and comedy of 
life, viewed by a people who have a strong feeling of the limitations 
of our existence, and yet somehow retain a sense of the dignity of 
human life. 

The Chinese philosopher is one who dreams with one eye open, 
who views life with love and sweet irony, who mixes his cynicism 
with a kindly tolerance, and who alternately wakes up from life’s 
dream and then nods again, feeling more alive when he is dream- 
ing than when he is awake, thereby investing his waking life with 
a dream-world quality. He sees with one eye closed and with one 
eye opened the futility of much that goes on around him and of 
his own endeavors, but barely retains enough sense of reality to 
determine to go through with it. He is seldom disillusioned be- 
cause he has no illusions, and seldom disappointed because he 
never had extravagant hopes. In this way his spirit is emancipated. 

For, after surveying the field of Chinese literature and philosophy, 
I come to the conclusion that the highest ideal of Chinese culture 
has always been a man with a sense of detachment ( ta\uan ) to- 
ward life based on a sense of wise disenchantment. From this de- 



tachment comes high-mindedness (J(uanghuai), a high-mindedness 
which enables one to go through life with tolerant irony and 
escape the temptations of fame and wealth and achievement, and 
eventually makes him take what comes. And from this detachment 
arise also his sense of freedom, his love of vagabondage and his 
pride and nonchalance. It is only with this sense of freedom and 
nonchalance that one eventually arrives at the keen and intense 
joy of living. 

It is useless for me to say whether my philosophy is valid or not 
for the Westerner. To understand Western life, one would have 
to look at it as a Westerner born, with his own temperament, his 
bodily attitudes and his own set of nerves. I have no doubt that 
American nerves can stand a good many things that Chinese 
nerves cannot stand, and vice versa. It is good that it should be so 
— that we should _all be born different. And yet it is all a ques- 
tion of relativity. I am quite sure that amidst the hustle and busde 
of American life, there is a great deal of wistfulness, of the divine 
desire to lie on a plot of grass under tall beautiful trees of an idle 
afternoon and just do nothing. The necessity for such common 
cries as “Wake up and live” is to me a good sign that a wise por- 
tion of American humanity prefer to dream the hours away. The 
American is after all not as bad as all that. It is only a ques- 
tion whether he will have more or less of that sort of thing, and 
how he will arrange to make it possible. Perhaps the American is 
merely ashamed of the word “loafing” in a world where everybody 
is doing something, but somehow, as sure as I know he is also an 
animal, he likes sometimes to have his muscles relaxed, to stretch 
on the sand, or to lie still with one leg comfortably curled up and 
one arm placed below his head as his pillow. If so, he cannot be 
very different from Yen Huei, who had exactly that virtue and 
whom Confucius desperately admired among all his disciples. The 
only thing I desire to see is that he be honest about it, and that he 
proclaim to the world that he likes it when he likes it, that it is 
not when he is working in the office but when he is lying idly on 
the sand that his soul utters, “Life is beautiful.” 



We are, therefore, about to see a philosophy and art of living as 
the mind of the Chinese people as a whole has understood it. I 
am inclined to think that, in a good or bad sense, there is nothing 
like it in the world. For here we come to an entirely new way of 
looking at life by an entirely different type of mind. It is a truism 
to say that the culture of any nation is the product of its mind. 
Consequently, where there is a national mind so racially different 
and historically isolated from the Western cultural world, we have 
the right to expect new answers to the problems of life, or what is 
better, new methods of approach, or, still better, a new posing of 
the problems themselves. We know some of the virtues and de- 
ficiencies of that mind, at least as revealed to us in the historical 
past. It has a glorious art and a contemptible science, a magnifi- 
cent common sense and an infantile logic, a fine womanish chatter 
about life and no scholastic philosophy. It is generally known that 
the Chinese mind is an intensely practical, hard-headed one, and it 
is also known to some lovers of Chinese art that it is a profoundly 
sensitive mind; by a still smaller proportion of people, it is ac- 
cepted as also a profoundly poetic and philosophical mind. At least 
the Chinese are noted for taking things philosophically, which is 
saying more than the statement that the Chinese have a great phi- 
losophy or have a few great philosophers. For a nation to have a 
few philosophers is not so unusual, but for a nation to take things 
philosophically is terrific. It is evident anyway that the Chinese as a 
nation are more philosophic than efficient, and that if it were other- 
wise, no nation could have survived the high blood pressure of an 
efficient life for four thousand years. Four thousand years of effi- 
cient living would ruin any nation. An important consequence is 
that, while in the West, the insane are so many that they are put in 
an asylum, in China the insane are so unusual that we worship them, 
as anybody who has a knowledge of Chinese literature will testify. 
And that, after all, is what I am driving at. Yes, the Chinese have a 
light, an almost gay, philosophy, and the best proof of their phil- 
osophic temper is to be found in this wise and merry philosophy 
of living. 



II. A Pseudo-Scientific Formula 

Let us begin with an examination of the Chinese mental make-up 
which produced this philosophy of living: great realism, inadequate 
idealism, a high sense of humor, and a high poetic sensitivity to life 
and nature. 

Mankind seems to be divided into idealists and realists, and 
idealism and realism are the two great forces molding human 
progress. The clay of humanity is made soft and pliable by the 
water of idealism, but the stuff that holds it together is after all the 
clay itself, or we might all evaporate into Ariels. The forces of 
idealism and realism tug at each other in all human activities, per- 
sonal, social and national, and real progress is made possible by the 
proper mixture of these two ingredients, so that the clay is kept 
in the ideal pliable, plastic condition, half moist and half dry, not 
hardened and unmanageable, nor dissolving into mud. The sound- 
est nations, like the English, have realism and idealism mixed in 
proper proportions, like the clay which neither hardens and so gets 
past the stage for the artist’s molding, nor is so wishy-washy that 
it cannot retain its form. Some countries are thrown into perpetual 
revolutions because into their clay has been injected some liquid of 
foreign ideals which is not yet properly assimilated, and the clay is 
therefore not able to keep its shape. 

A vague, uncritical idealism always lends itself to ridicule and 
too much of it might be a danger to mankind, leading it round in a 
futile wild-goose chase for imaginary ideals. If there were too 
many of these visionary idealists in any society or people, revolutions 
would be the order of the day. Human society would be like an 
idealistic couple forever getting tired of one place and changing 
their residence regularly once every three months, for the simple 
reason that no one place is ideal and the place where one is not 
seems always better because one is not there. Very fortunately, man 
is also gifted with a sense of humor, whose function, as I conceive 
it, is to exercise criticism of man’s dreams, and bring them in touch 
with the world of reality. It is important that man dreams, but it is 



perhaps equally important that he can laugh at his own dreams. 
That is a great gift, and the Chinese have plenty of it. 

The sense of humor, which I shall discuss at more length in a 
later chapter, seems to be very closely related to the sense of reality, 
or realism. If the joker is often cruel in disillusioning the idealist, 
he nevertheless performs a very important function right there by 
not letting the idealist bump his head against the stone wall of 
reality and receive a ruder shock. He also gently eases the tension 
of the hot-headed enthusiast and makes him live longer. By pre- 
paring him for disillusion, there is probably less pain in the final 
impact, for a humorist is always like a man charged with the duty 
of breaking a sad news gently to a dying patient. Sometimes the 
gentle warning from a humorist saves the dying patient’s life. If 
idealism and disillusion must necessarily go together in this world, 
we must say that life is cruel, rather than the joker who reminds 
us of life’s cruelty. 

I have often thought of formulas by which the mechanism of 
human progress and historical change can be expressed. They seem 
to be as follows: 

Reality — Dreams = Animal Being 

Reality + Dreams = A Heart-Ache (usually called Idealism) 

Reality + Humor = Realism (also called Conservatism) 

Dreams — Humor = Fanaticism 

Dreams + Humor = Fantasy 

Reality Dreams + Humor = Wisdom 

So then, wisdom, or the highest type of thinking, consists in ton- 
ing down our dreams or idealism with a good sense of humor, sup- 
ported by reality itself. 

As pure ventures in pseudo-scientific formulations, we may pro- 
ceed to analyze national characters in the following manner. I say 
“pseudo-scientific” because I distrust all dead and mechanical for- 
mulas for expressing anything connected with human affairs or 
human personalities. Putting human affairs in exact formulas shows 
in itself a lack of the sense of humor and therefore a lack of wis- 
dom. I do not mean that these things are not being done: they are. 



That is why we get so much pseudo-science today. When a psychol- 
ogist can measure a man’s I.Q. or P.Q., 1 it is a pretty poor world, 
and specialists have risen to usurp humanized scholarship. But if we 
recognize that these formulas are no more than handy, graphic ways 
of expressing certain opinions, and so long as we don’t drag in the 
sacred name of science to help advertise our goods, no harm is done. 
The following are my formulas for the characters of certain nations, 
entirely personal and completely incapable of proof or verification. 
Anyone is free to dispute them and change them or add his own, 
if he does not claim that he can prove his private opinions by a 
mass of statistical facts and figures. Let “R” stand for a sense of 
reality (or realism), “D” for dreams (or idealism), “H” for a sense 
of humor, and — adding one important ingredient — “S” for sensitiv- 
ity. 2 And further let “4” stand for “abnormally high,” “3” stand for 
“high,” “2” for “fair,” and “1” for “low,” and we have the following 
pseudo-chemical formulas for the following national characters. 
Human beings and communities behave then differently according 
to their different compositions, as sulphates and sulphides or carbon 
monoxide and carbon dioxide behave differently from one another. 
For me, the interesting thing always is to watch how human com- 
munities or nations behave differently under identical conditions. As 
we cannot invent words like “humoride” and “humorate” after the 
fashion of chemistry, we may put it thus: “3 grains of Realism, 2 
grains of Dreams, 2 grains of Humor and 1 grain of Sensitivity 
make an Englishman.” 3 

R3D2H2S.1 = The English 
R2D3H3S3 = The French 
R3D3H0S2 = The Americans 
R 3 D 4 H 1 S 2 = The Germans 

1 1 am not objecting to the limited utility of intelligence tests, but to their claims 
to mathematical accuracy or constant dependability as measures of human personality. 

2 In the sense of the French word sensibilite. 

8 Some might with good reason suggest the including of an “L” standing for 
logic or the rational faculty, as an important element in shaping human progress. 
This “L” will then often function or weigh against sensitivity, a direct perception 
of things. Such a formula might be attempted. For me personally, the role of the 
rational faculty in human affairs is rather low. 



R2D4HXS! = The Russians 
R 2 D 3 H 1 S 1 = The Japanese 
R4D1H3S3 = The Chinese 

I do not know the Italians, the Spanish, the Hindus and others 
well enough even to essay a formula on the subject, realizing that 
the above are shaky enough as they are, and in any case are enough 
to bring down a storm of criticism upon my head. Probably these 
formulas are more provocative than authoritative. I promise to 
modify them gradually for my own use as new facts are brought to 
my knowledge, or new impressions are formed. That is all they are 
worth today — a record of the progress of my knowledge and the 
gaps of my ignorance. 

Some observations may be necessary. It is easy to see that I re- 
gard the Chinese as most closely allied to the French in their sense 
of humor and sensitivity, as is quite evident from the way the 
French write their books and eat their food, while the more volatile 
character of the French comes from their greater idealism, which 
takes the form of love of abstract ideas (recall the manifestoes of 
their literary, artistic and political movements). “R4” for Chinese 
realism makes the Chinese the most realistic people; ‘TV’ accounts 
for something of a drag in the changes in their pattern or ideal of 
life. The high figures for Chinese humor and sensitivity, as well as 
for their realism, are perhaps due to my too close association and 
the vividness of my impressions. For Chinese sensitivity, little justi- 
fication is needed; the whole story of Chinese prose, poetry and 
painting proclaims it. . . . The Japanese and Germans are very 
much alike in their comparative lack of humor (such is the gen- 
eral impression of people), yet it is really impossible to give a 
“zero” for any one characteristic in any one nation, not even for 
idealism in the Chinese people. It is all a question of degree; such 
statements as a complete lack of this or that quality are not based on 
an intimate knowledge of the peoples. For this reason, I give the 
Japanese and the Germans “Hu” instead of “H 0 ,” and I intuitively 
feel that I am right. But I do believe that the Japanese and the Ger- 
mans suffer politically at present, and have suffered in the past, for 



lacking a better sense of humor. How a Prussian Geheimrat loves to 
be called a Geheimrat, and how he loves his buttons and metal pins! 
A certain belief in “logical necessity” (often “holy” or “sacred”), 
a tendency to fly too straight at a goal instead of circling around it, 
often carries one too far. It is not so much what you believe in that 
matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to trans- 
late that belief into acdon. By “D 3 ” for the Japanese I am referring to 
their fanatic loyalty to their emperor and to the state, made pos- 
sible by a low mixture of humor. For idealism must stand for 
different things in different countries, as the so-called sense of humor 
really comprises a very wide variety of things. . . . There is an 
interesting tug between idealism and realism in America, both given 
high figures, and that produces the energy characteristic of the 
Americans. What American idealism is, I had better leave it to the 
Americans to find out; but they are always enthusiastic about some- 
thing or other. A great deal of this idealism is noble, in the sense 
that the Americans are easily appealed to by noble ideals or noble 
words; but some of it is mere gullibility. The American sense of 
humor again means a different thing from the Continental sense 
of humor, but really I think that, such as it is (the love of fun and 
an innate, broad common sense), it is the greatest asset of the 
American nation. In the coming years of critical change, they will 
have great need of that broad common sense referred to by James 
Bryce, which I hope will tide them over these critical times. I give 
American sensitivity a low figure because of my impression that they 
can stand so many things. There is no use quarreling about this, be- 
cause we will be quarreling about words. . . . The English seem to 
be on the whole the soundest race: contrast their “R 3 D 2 ” with the 
French “R 2 D 3 .” I am all for “R 3 D 2 .” It bespeaks stability. The ideal 
formula for me would seem to be R 3 D 2 H 3 S 2 , for too much idealism 
or too much sensitivity is not a good thing, either. And if I give “Si” 
for English sensitivity, and if that is too low, who is to blame for it 
except the English themselves? How can I tell whether the English 
ever feel anything — joy, happiness, anger, satisfaction — when they 
are determined to look so glum on all occasions? 


We might apply the same formula to writers and poets. To take 
a few well-known types: 

Shakespeare 4 = R4D4H3S4 
Heine = R3D3H4S3 

Shelley = R 1 D 4 H 1 S 4 

Poe = R3D4HJS4 

Li Po = RxDgH^ 

Tu Fu = R3D3H2S4 

Su Tungp’o = R3D2H4S3 

These are no more than a few impromptu suggestions. But it is 
clear that all poets have a high sensitivity, or they wouldn’t be poets 
at all. Poe, I feel, is a very sound genius, in spite of his weird, imag- 
inative gift. Doesn’t he love “ratiocination”? 

So my formula for the Chinese national mind is: 


There we start with an “S 3 ,” standing for high sensitivity, which 
guarantees a proper artistic approach to life and answers for the 
Chinese affirmation that this earthly life is beautiful and the con- 
sequent intense love of this life. But it signifies more than that; 
actually it stands for the artistic approach even to philosophy. It ac- 
counts for the fact that the Chinese philosopher’s view of life is 
essentially the poet’s view of life, and that, in China, philosophy is 
married to poetry rather than to science as it is in the West. It will 
become amply clear from what follows that this high sensitivity to 
the pleasures and pains and flux and change of the colors of life is 
the very basis that makes a light philosophy possible. Man’s sense 
of the tragedy of life comes from his sensitive perception of the 
tragedy of a departing spring, and a delicate tenderness toward life 
comes from a tenderness toward the withered blossoms that bloomed 
yesterday. First the sadness and sense of defeat, then the awakening 
and the laughter of the old rogue-philosopher. 

4 I have hesitated a long time between giving Shakespeare “S*” and u Ss\ Finally 
his “Sonnets*' decided it. No school teacher has experienced greater fear and trembling 
in grading a pupil than I in trying to grade Shakespeare. 



On the other hand, we have “R 4 ” standing for intense realism, 
which means an attitude of accepting life as it is and of regarding 
a bird in the hand as better than two in the bush. This realism, 
therefore, both reinforces and supplements the artist’s affirmation 
that this life is transiently beautiful, and it all but saves the artist 
and poet from escaping from life altogether. The Dreamer says 
“Life is but a dream,” and the Realist replies, “Quite correct. And 
let us live this dream as beautifully as we can.” But the realism of 
one awakened is the poet’s realism and not that of the business 
man, and the laughter of the old rogue is no longer the laughter of 
the young go-getter singing his way to success with his head up and 
his chin out, but that of an old man running his finger through his 
flowing beard, and speaking in a soothingly low voice. Such a 
dreamer loves peace, for no one can fight hard for a dream. He will 
be more intent to live reasonably and well with his fellow dreamers. 
Thus is the high tension of life lowered. 

But the chief function of this sense of realism is the elimination 
of all non-essentials in the philosophy of life, holding life down by 
the neck, as it were, for fear that the wings of imagination may 
carry it away to an imaginary and possibly beautiful, but unreal, 
world. And after all, the wisdom of life consists in the elimination 
of non-essentials, in reducing the problems of philosophy to just a 
few — the enjoyment of the home (the relationship between man and 
woman and child), of living, of Nature and of culture — and in 
showing all the other irrelevant scientific disciplines and futile chases 
after knowledge to the door. The problems of life for the Chinese 
philosopher then become amazingly few and simple. It means also 
an impatience with metaphysics and with the pursuit of knowledge 
that does not lead to any practical bearing on life itself. And it also 
means that every human activity, whether the acquiring of knowl- 
edge or the acquiring of things, has to be submitted immediately to 
the test of life itself and of its subserviency to the end of living. 
Again, and here is a significant result, the end of living is not some 
metaphysical entity — but just living itself. 

Gifted with this realism, and with a profound distrust of logic 



and of the intellect itself, philosophy for the Chinese becomes a 
matter of direct and intimate feeling of life itself, and refuses to 
be encased in any system. For there is a robust sense of reality, a 
sheer animal sense, a spirit of reasonableness which crushes reason 
itself and makes the rise of any hard and fast philosophic system 
impossible. There are the three religions of China, Confucianism, 
Taoism and Buddhism, all magnificent systems in themselves, and 
yet robust common sense dilutes them all and reduces them all into 
the common problem of the pursuit of a happy human life. The 
mature Chinese is always a person who refuses to think too hard 
or to believe in any single idea or faith or school of philosophy 
whole-heartedly. When a friend of Confucius told him that he al- 
ways thought three times before he acted, Confucius wittily replied, 
“To think twice is quite enough.” A follower of a school of philoso- 
phy is but a student of philosophy, but a man is a student, or perhaps 
a master, of life. 

The final product of this culture and philosophy is this: in China, 
as compared with the West, man lives a life closer to nature and 
closer to childhood, a life in which the instincts and the emotions are 
given free play and emphasized against the life of the intellect, with 
a strange combination of devotion to the flesh and arrogance of the 
spirit, of profound wisdom and foolish gaiety, of high sophistication 
and childish naivete. I would say, therefore, that this philosophy is 
characterized by: first, a gift for seeing life whole in art; secondly, 
a conscious return to simplicity in philosophy; and thirdly, an ideal 
of reasonableness in living. The end product is, strange to say, a 
worship of the poet, the peasant and the vagabond. 

III. The Scamp as Ideal 

To me, spiritually a child of the East and the West, man’s dignity 
consists in the following facts which distinguish man from animals. 
First, that he has a playful curiosity and a natural genius for 
exploring knowledge; second, that he has dreams and a lofty ideal- 
ism (often vague, or confused, or cocky, it is true, but neverthe- 




less worthwhile); third, and still more important, that he is able 
to correct his dreams by a sense of humor, and thus restrain his 
idealism by a more robust and healthy realism; and finally, that 
he does not react to surroundings mechanically and uniformly as 
animals do, but possesses the ability and the freedom to determine 
his own reactions and to change surroundings at his will. This last 
is the same as saying that human personality is the last thing to be 
reduced to mechanical laws; somehow the human mind is forever 
elusive, uncatchable and unpredictable, and manages to wriggle out 
of mechanistic laws or a materialistic dialectic that crazy psycholo- 
gists and unmarried economists are trying to impose upon him. 
Man, therefore, is a curious, dreamy, humorous and wayward 

In short, my faith in human dignity consists in the belief that man 
is the greatest scamp on earth. Human dignity must be associated 
with the idea of a scamp and not with that of an obedient, disci- 
plined and regimented soldier. The scamp is probably the most 
glorious type of human being, as the soldier is the lowest type, ac- 
cording to this conception. It seems in my last book, My Country 
and My People, the net impression of readers was that I was trying 
to glorify the “old rogue.” It is my hope that the net impression of 
the present one will be that I am doing my best to glorify the scamp 
or vagabond. I hope I shall succeed. For things are not so simple as 
they sometimes seem. In this present age of threats to democracy 
and individual liberty, probably only the scamp and the spirit of the 
scamp alone will save us from becoming lost as serially numbered 
units in the masses of disciplined, obedient, regimented and uni- 
formed coolies. The scamp will be the last and most formidable 
enemy of dictatorships. He will be the champion of human dignity 
and individual freedom, and will be the last to be conquered. All 
modern civilization depends entirely upon him. 

Probably the Creator knew well that, when He created man upon 
this earth, He was producing a scamp, a brilliant scamp, it is true, 
but a scamp nonetheless. The scamp-like qualities of man are, after 
all, his most hopeful qualities. This scamp that the Creator has 


produced is undoubtedly a brilliant chap. He is still a very unruly 
and awkward adolescent, thinking himself greater and wiser than 
he really is, still full of mischief and naughtiness and love of a 
free-for-all. Nevertheless, there is so much good in him that the 
Creator might still be willing to pin on him His hopes, as a father 
sometimes pins his hopes on a brilliant but somewhat erratic son 
of twenty. Would He be willing some day to retire and turn over 
the management of this universe to this erratic son of His? I 
wonder. ... 

Speaking as a Chinese, I do not think that any civilization can 
be called complete until it has progressed from sophistication to un- 
sophistication, and made a conscious return to simplicity of think- 
ing and living, and I call no man wise until he has made the prog- 
ress from the wisdom of knowledge to the wisdom of foolishness, 
and become a laughing philosopher, feeling first life’s tragedy and 
then life’s comedy. For we must weep before we can laugh. Out 
of sadness comes the awakening and out of the awakening comes 
the laughter of the philosopher, with kindliness and tolerance to 

The world, I believe, is far too serious, and being far too serious, 
it has need of a wise and merry philosophy. The philosophy of the 
Chinese art of living can certainly be called the “gay science,” if any- 
thing can be called by that phrase used by Nietzsche. After all, 
only a gay philosophy is profound philosophy; the serious phi- 
losophies of the West haven’t even begun to understand what life is. 
To me personally, the only function of philosophy is to teach us to 
take life more lightly and gayly than the average business man does, 
for no business man who does not retire at fifty, if he can, is in my 
eyes a philosopher. This is not merely a casual thought, but is a fun- 
damental point of view with me. The world can be made a more 
peaceful and more reasonable place to live in only when men have 
imbued themselves in the light gayety of this spirit. The modern 
man takes life far too seriously, and because he is too serious, the 
world is full of troubles. We ought, therefore, to take time to ex- 
amine the origin of that attitude which will make possible a whole- 


hearted enjoyment o£ this life and a more reasonable, more peaceful 

and less hot-headed temperament. ,. 

1 am perhaps entitled to call this the philosophy of the Chinese 
people rather than of any one school. It is a plnlosophy that is 
greater than Confucius and greater than Laotse, for it transcends 
these and other ancient philosophers; it draws from these fountain 
springs of thought and harmonizes them into a whole, and from 
the abstract outlines of their wisdom, it has created an art of living 
in the flesh, visible, palpable and understandable by the common 
man. Surveying Chinese literature, art and philosophy as a who e, 
it has become quite clear to me that the philosophy of a wise disen- 
chantment and a hearty enjoyment of life is their common mes- 
sage and teaching-the most constant, most characterlsuc and most 
persistent refrain of Chinese thought. 

Chapter Two 


I. Christian, Greek and Chinese 

THERE are several views of mankind, the traditional Christian 
theological view, the Greek pagan view, and the Chinese Taoist- 
Confucianist view. (I do not include the Buddhist view because it 
is too sad.) Deeper down in their allegorical sense, these views 
after all do not differ so much from one another, especially when 
the modern man with better biological and anthropological knowl- 
edge gives them a broader interpretation. But these differences in 
their original forms exist. 

The traditional, orthodox Christian view was that man was 
created perfect, innocent, foolish and happy, living naked in the 
Garden of Eden. Then came knowledge and wisdom and the Fall 
of Man, to which the sufferings of man are due, notably (i) work 
by the sweat of one’s brow for man, and (2) the pangs of labor 
for women. In contrast with man’s original innocence and per- 
fection, a new element was introduced to explain his present im- 
perfection, and that is of course the Devil, working chiefly through 
the body, while his higher nature works through the soul. When 
the “soul” was invented in the history of Christian theology I am 
not aware, but this “soul” became a something rather than a func- 
tion, an entity rather than a condition, and it sharply separated 
man from the animals, which have no souls worth saving. Here the 
logic halts, for the origin of the Devil had to be explained, and 
when the medieval theologians proceeded with their usual scholas- 
tic logic to deal with the problem, they got into a quandary. They 
could not have very well admitted that the Devil, who was Not- 
God, came from God himself, nor could they quite agree that in 
the original universe, the Devil, a Not-God, was co-eternal with 
God. So in desperation they agreed that the Devil must have been 
a fallen angel, which rather begs the question of the origin of evil 
(for there still must have been another Devil to tempt this fallen - 



angel), and which is therefore unsatisfactory, but they had to leave 
it at that. Nevertheless from all this followed the curious dichotomy 
of the spirit and the flesh, a mythical conception which is still quite 
prevalent and powerful today in affecting our philosophy of life 
and happiness. 1 

Then came the Redemption, still borrowing from the current 
conception of the sacrificial lamb, which went still farther back to 
the idea of a God Who desired the smell of roast meat and could 
not forgive for nothing. From this Redemption, at one stroke a 
means was found by which all sins could be forgiven, and a way 
was found for perfection again. The most curious aspect of Christian 
thought is the idea of perfection. As this happened during the decay 
of the ancient worlds, a tendency grew up to emphasize the after- 
life, and the question of salvation supplanted the question of happi- 
ness or simple living itself. The notion was how to get away from 
this world alive, a world which was apparently sinking into cor- 
ruption and chaos and doomed. Hence the overwhelming impor- 
tance attached to immortality. This represents a contradiction of 
the original Genesis story that God did not want man to live for- 
ever. The Genesis story of the reason why Adam and Eve were 
driven out of the Garden of Eden was not that they had tasted of 
the Tree of Knowledge, as is popularly conceived, but the fear lest 
they should disobey a second time and eat of the Tree of Life and 
live forever: 

And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one 
of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his 
hand, and ta\e also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for 

Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of 
Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 

1 It is a happy fact that with the progress of modern thought, the Devil is the 
first to be thrown overboard. I believe that of a hundred liberal Christians today who 
still believe in God in some form or other, not more than five believe in a real Devil, 
except in a figurative sense. Also the belief in a real Hell is disappearing before the 
belief in a real Heaven. 


So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the 
garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned 
every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. 

The Tree of Knowledge seemed to be somewhere in the center 
of the garden, but the Tree of Life was near the eastern entrance, 
where for all we know, cherubims are still stationed to guard the 
approach by men. 

All in all, there is still a belief in total depravity, that enjoyment 
of this life is sin and wickedness, that to be uncomfortable is to be 
virtuous, and that on the whole man cannot save himself except 
by a greater power outside. The doctrine of sin is still the basic 
assumption of Christianity as generally practiced today, and Chris- 
tian missionaries trying to make converts generally start out by 
impressing upon the party to be converted a consciousness of sin 
and of the wickedness of human nature (which is, of course, the 
fine qua non for the need of the ready-made remedy which the mis- 
sionary has up his sleeve). All in all, you can’t make a man a 
Christian unless you first make him believe he is a sinner. Some one 
has said rather cruelly, “Religion in our country has so narrowed 
down to the contemplation of sin that a respectable man does not 
any longer dare to show his face in the church.” 

The Greek pagan world was a different world by itself and 
therefore their conception of man was also quite different. What 
strikes me most is that the Greeks made their gods like men, while 
the Christians desired to make men like the gods. That Olympian 
company is certainly a jovial, amorous, loving, lying, quarreling 
and vow-breaking, petulant lot; hunt-loving, chariot-riding and jave- 
lin-throwing like the Greeks themselves — a marrying lot, too, and 
having unbelievably many illegitimate children. So far as the differ- 
ence between gods and men is concerned, the gods merely had di- 
vine powers of hurling thunderbolts in heaven and raising 
vegetation on earth, were immortal, and drank nectar instead of 
wine — the fruits were pretty much the same. One feels one can be 
intimate with this crowd, can go hunting with a knapsack on one’s 
back with Apollo or Athene, or stop Mercury on the way and chat 



with him as with a Western Union messenger boy, and if the con- 
versation gets too interesting, we can imagine Mercury saying, 
“Yeah. Okay. Sorry, but I’ll have to run along and deliver this mes- 
sage at 72nd Street.” The Greek men were not divine, but the Greek 
gods were human. How different from the perfect Christian God! 
And so the gods were merely another race of men, a race of giants, 
gifted with immortality, while men on earth were not. Out of this 
background came some of the most inexpressibly beautiful stories 
of Demeter and Proserpina and Orpheus. The belief in the gods 
was taken for granted, for even Socrates, when he was about to 
drink hemlock, proposed a libation to the gods to speed him on his 
journey from this world to the next. This was very much like the 
attitude of Confucius. It was necessarily so in that period; what 
attitude toward man and God the Greek spirit would take in the 
modern world there is unfortunately no chance of knowing. The 
Greek pagan world was not modern, and the modern Christian 
world is not Greek. That’s the pity of it. 

On the whole, it was accepted by the Greeks that man’s was a 
mortal lot, subject sometimes to a cruel Fate. That once accepted, 
man was quite happy as he was, for the Greeks loved this life and 
this universe, and were interested in understanding the good, the 
true and the beautiful in life, besides being fully occupied in scien- 
tifically understanding the physical world. There was no mythical 
“Golden Period” in the sense of the Garden of Eden, and no alle- 
gory of the Fall of Man; the Hellenes themselves were but human 
creatures transformed from pebbles picked up and thrown over 
their shoulders by Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, as they were 
coming down to the plain after the Great Flood. Diseases and cares 
were explained comically; they came through the uncontrollable 
desire of a young woman to open and see a box of jewels — Pan- 
dora’s Box. The Greek fancy was beautiful. They took human 
nature largely as it was: the Christians might say they were “re- 
signed” to the mortal lot. But it was so beautiful to be mortal: 
there was free room for the exercise of understanding and the free, 
speculative spirit. Some of the Sophists thought man’s nature good, 


and some thought man’s nature bad, but there wasn’t the sharp 
contradiction of Hobbes and Rousseau. Finally, in Plato, man was 
seen to be a compound of desires, emotions, and thought, and 
ideal human life was the living together in harmony of these three 
parts of his being under the guidance of wisdom or true under- 
standing. Plato thought “ideas” were immortal, but individual 
souls were either base or noble, according as they loved justice, 
learning, temperance and beauty or not. The soul also acquired an 
independent and immortal existence in Socrates; as we are told in 
“Phaedo,” “When the soul exists in herself, and is released from 
the body, and the body is released from the soul, what is this but 
death?” Evidently the belief in immortality of the human soul is 
something which the Christian, Greek, Taoist and Confucianist 
views have in common. Of course this is nothing to be jumped at 
by . modern believers in the immortality of the soul. Socrates’ belief 
in immortality would probably mean nothing to a modern man, 
because many of his premises in support of it, like re-incarnation, 
cannot be accepted by the modern man. 

The Chinese view of man also arrived at the idea that man is 
the Lord of the Creation (“Spirit of the Ten Thousand Things”), 
and in the Confucianist view, man ranks as the equal of heaven 
and earth in the “Trio of Geniuses.” The background was ani- 
mistic: everything was alive or inhabited by a spirit — mountains, 
rivers, and everything that reached a grand old age. The winds and 
thunder were spirits themselves; each of the great mountains and 
each river was ruled by a spirit who practically owned it; each 
kind of flower had a fairy in heaven attending to its seasons and 
its welfare, and there was a Queen of All Flowers whose birthday 
came on the twelfth day of the second moon; every willow tree 
pine tree, cypress, fox or turtle that reached a grand old age, say 
over a few hundred years, acquired by that very fact immortality 
and became a “genius.” 

With this animistic background, it is natural that man is also 
considered a manifestation of the spirit. This spirit, like all life in 
the entire universe, is produced by the union of the male, active, 



positive or yang principle, and the female, passive, negative or yin 
principle — which is really no more than a lucky, shrewd guess at 
positive and negative electricity. When this spirit becomes incar- 
nated in a human body, it is called p’o; when unattached to a body 
and floating about as spirit it is called hwen. (A man of forceful 
personality or “spirits” is spoken of as having a lot of p’oli, or p’o- 
energy.) After death, this hwen continues to wander about. Nor- 
mally it does not bother people, but if no one buries and offers 
sacrifices to the deceased, the spirit becomes a “wandering ghost,” 
for which reason an All Souls’ Day is set apart on the fifteenth 
day of the seventh moon for a general sacrifice to those drowned 
in water or dead and unburied in a strange land. Also, if the de- 
ceased was murdered or died suffering a wrong, the sense of 
injustice in the ghost compels it to hang about and cause trouble 
until the wrong is avenged and the spirit is satisfied. Then all 
trouble is stopped. 

While living, man, who is spirit taking shape in a body, neces- 
sarily has certain passions, desires, and a flow of “vital energy,” or 
in more easily understood English, just “nervous energy.” In and 
for themselves, these are neither good nor bad, but just something 
given and inseparable from the characteristically human life. All 
men and women have passions, natural desires and noble am- 
bitions, and also a conscience; they have sex, hunger, fear, anger, 
and are subject to sickness, pain, suffering and death. Culture con- 
sists in bringing about the expression of these passions and desires 
in harmony. That is the Confucianist view, which believes that by 
living in harmony with this human nature given us, we can become 
the equals of heaven and earth, as quoted at the end of Chapter VI. 
The Buddhists, however, regard the mortal desires of the flesh 
essentially as the medieval Christians did — they are a nuisance to 
be done away with. Men and women who are too intelligent, or 
inclined to think too much, sometimes accept this view and become 
monks and nuns; but on the whole, Confucian good sense forbids 
it. Then also, with a Taoistic touch, beautiful and talented girls 
suffering a harsh fate are regarded as “fallen fairies,” punished for 



having mortal thoughts or some neglect of duty in heaven and sent 
down to this earth to live through a predestined fate of mortal 

Man’s intellect is considered as a flow of energy. Literally this 
intellect is “spirit of a genius” ( chingshen ), the word “genius” be- 
ing essentially taken in the sense in which we speak of fox genii, 
rock genii and pine genii. The nearest English equivalent is, as I 
have suggested, “vitality” or “nervous energy,” which ebbs and 
flows at different times of the day and of the person’s life. Every 
man born into this world starts out with certain passions and 
desires and this vital energy, which run their course in different 
cycles through childhood, youth, maturity, old age and death. 
Confucius said, “When young, beware of fighting; when strong, 
beware of sex; and when old, beware of possession,” which simply 
means that a boy loves fighting, a young man loves women, and an 
old man loves money. 

Faced with this compound of physical, mental and moral assets, 
the Chinese takes an attitude toward man himself, as toward all 
other problems, which may be summed up in the phrase: “Let us be 
reasonable.” This is an attitude of expecting neither too much nor 
too little. Man is, as it were, sandwiched between heaven and 
earth, between idealism and realism, between lofty thoughts and 
the baser passions. Being so sandwiched is the very essence of hu- 
manity; it is human to have thirst for knowledge and thirst for 
water, to love a good idea and a good dish of pork with bamboo 
shoots, and to admire a beautiful saying and a beautiful woman. 
This being the case, our world is necessarily an imperfect world. 
Of course there is a chance of taking human society in hand and 
making it better, but the Chinese do not expect either perfect peace 
or perfect happiness. There is a story illustrating this point of view. 
There was a man who was in Hell and about to be re-incarnated, 
and he said to the King of Re-incarnation, “If you want me to re- 
turn to the earth as a human being, I will go only on my own 
conditions.” “And what are they?” asked the King. The man re- 
plied, “I must be born the son of a cabinet minister and father of 



a future ‘Literary Wrangler’ (the scholar who comes out first at 
the national examinations) . I must have ten thousand acres of land 
surrounding my home and fish ponds and fruits of every kind and 
a beautiful wife and pretty concubines, all good and loving to me, 
and rooms stocked to the ceiling with gold and pearls and cellars 
stocked full of grain and trunks chockful of money, and I myself 
must be a Grand Councilor or a Duke of the First Rank and 
enjoy honor and prosperity and live until I am a hundred years 
old.” And the King of Re-incarnation replied, “If there was such a 
lot on earth, I would go and be re-incarnated myself, and not give 
it to you!” 

The reasonable attitude is, since we’ve got this human nature, 
let’s start with it. Besides, there is no escaping from it anyway. 
Passions and instincts are originally good or originally bad, but 
there is not much use talking about them, is there? On the other 
hand, there is the danger of our being enslaved by them. Just stay 
in the middle of the road. This reasonable attitude creates such a 
forgiving kind of philosophy that, at least to a cultured, broad- 
minded scholar who lives according to the spirit of reasonableness, 
any human error or misbehavior whatsoever, legal or moral or 
political, which can be labeled as “common human nature” (more 
literally, “man’s normal passions”), is excusable. The Chinese go so 
far as to assume that Heaven or God Himself is quite a reasonable 
being, that if you live reasonably, according to your best lights, you 
have nothing to fear, that peace of conscience is the greatest of all 
gifts, and that a man with a clear conscience need not be afraid 
even of ghosts. With a reasonable God supervising the affairs of 
reasonable and some unreasonable beings, everything is quite all 
right in this world. Tyrants die; traitors commit suicide; the grasp- 
ing fellow is seen selling his property; the sons of a powerful and 
rich collector of curios (about whom tales are told of grasping greed 
or extortion by power) are seen selling out the collection on which 
their father spent so much thought and trouble, and these same 
curios are now being dispersed among other families; murderers 
are found out and dead and wronged women are avenged. Some- 


2 3 

times, but quite seldom, an oppressed person cries out, “Heaven has 
no eyes!” (Justice is blind.) Eventually, both in Taoism and in 
Confucianism, the conclusion and highest goal of this philosophy is 
complete understanding of and harmony with nature, resulting in 
what I may call “reasonable naturalism,” if we must have a term 
for classification. A reasonable naturalist then settles down to this 
life with a sort of animal satisfaction. As Chinese illiterate women 
put it, “Others gave birth to us and we give birth to others. What 
else are we to do?” 

There is a terrible philosophy in this saying, “Others gave birth 
to us and we give birth to others.” Life becomes a biological pro- 
cession and the very question of immortality is sidetracked. For 
that is the exact feeling of a Chinese grandfather holding his grand- 
child by the hand and going to the shops to buy some candy, with 
the thought that in five or ten years he will be returning to his 
grave or to his ancestors. The best that we can hope for in this 
life is that we shall not have sons and grandsons of whom we need 
be ashamed. The whole pattern of Chinese life is organized ac- 
cording to this one idea. 

II. Earth-Bound 

The situation then is this: man wants to live, but he still must 
live upon this earth. All questions of living in heaven must be 
brushed aside. Let not the spirit take wings and soar to the abode of 
the gods and forget the earth. Are we not mortals, condemned to 
die? The span of life vouchsafed us, threescore and ten, is short 
enough, if the spirit gets too haughty and wants to live forever, but 
on the other hand, it is also long enough, if the spirit is a little 
humble. One can learn such a lot and enjoy such a lot in seventy 
years, and three generations is a long, long time to see human follies 
and acquire human wisdom. Anyone who is wise and has lived 
long enough to witness the changes of fashion and morals and 
politics through the rise and fall of three generations should be 


2 4 

perfectly satisfied to rise from his seat and go away saying, “It was a 
good show,” when the curtain falls. 

For we are of the earth, earth-born arid earth-bound. There is 
nothing to be unhappy about the fact that we are, as it were, de- 
livered upon this beautiful earth as its transient guests. Even if it 
were a dark dungeon, we still would have to make the best of it; 
it would be ungrateful of us not to do so when we have, instead 
of a dungeon, such a beautiful earth to live on for a good part of a 
century. Sometimes we get too ambitious and disdain the humble 
and yet generous earth. Yet a sentiment for this Mother Earth, a 
feeling of true affection and attachment, one must have for this 
temporary abode of our body and spirit, if we are to have a sense of 
spiritual harmony. 

We have to have, therefore, a kind of animal skepticism as well 
as animal faith, taking this earthly life largely as it is. And we have 
to retain the wholeness of nature that we see in Thoreau who 
felt himself kin to the sod and partook largely of its dull patience, 
in winter expecting the sun of spring, who in his cheapest moments 
was apt to think that it was not his business to be “seeking the 
spirit,” but as much the spirit’s business to seek him, and whose 
happiness, as he described it, was a good deal like that of the wood- 
chucks. The earth, after all is real, as the heaven is unreal: how 
fortunate is man that he is born between the real earth and the 
unreal heaven! 

Any good practical philosophy must start out with the recog- 
nition of our having a body. It is high time that some among us 
made the straight admission that we are animals, an admission 
which is inevitable since the establishment of the basic truth of the 
Darwinian theory and the great progress of biology, especially 
bio-chemistry. It was very unfortunate that our teachers and philoso- 
phers belonged to the so-called intellectual class, with a character- 
istic professional pride of intellect. The men of the spirit were as 
proud of the spirit as the shoemaker is proud of leather. Sometimes 
even the spirit was not sufficiently remote and abstract and they 
had to use the words, “essence” or “soul” or “idea,” writing them 


2 5 

with capital letters to frighten us. The human body was distilled 
in this scholastic machine into a spirit, and the spirit was further 
concentrated into a kind of essence, forgetting that even alcoholic 
drinks must have a “body” — mixed with plain water — if they are 
to be palatable at all. And we poor laymen were supposed to drink 
that concentrated quintessence of spirit. This over-emphasis on the 
spirit was fatal. It made us war with our natural instincts, and my 
chief criticism is that it made a whole and rounded view of human 
nature impossible. It proceeded also from an inadequate knowledge 
of biology and psychology, and of the place of the senses, emotions 
and, above all, instincts in our life. Man is made of flesh and 
spirit both, and it should be philosophy’s business to see that the 
mind and body live harmoniously together, that there be a recon- 
ciliation between the two. 7 

III. Spirit and Flesh 

The most obvious fact which philosophers refuse to see is that we 
have got a body. Tired of seeing our mortal imperfections and our 
savage instincts and impulses, sometimes our preachers wish that we 
were made like angels, and yet we are at a total loss to imagine what 
the angels’ life would be like. We either give the angels a body and 
a shape like our own — except for a pair of wings — or we don’t. 
It is interesting that the general conception of an angel is still that of 
a human body with a pair of wings. I sometimes think that it is an 
advantage even for angels to have a body with the five senses. If I 
were to be an angel, I should like to have a school-girl complexion, 
but how am I going to have a school-girl complexion without a 
skin? I still should like to drink a glass of tomato juice or iced 
orange juice, but how am I going to appreciate iced orange juice 
without having thirst? And how am I going to enjoy food, when I 
am incapable of hunger? How would an angel paint without pig- 
ment, sing without the hearing of sounds, smell the fine morning air 
without a nose? How would he enjoy the immense satisfaction of 
scratching an itch, if his skin doesn’t itch? And what a terrible loss 



in the capacity for happiness that would be! Either we have to have 
bodies and have all our bodily wants satisfied, or else we are pure 
spirits and have no satisfactions at all. All satisfactions imply want. 

I sometimes think what a terrible punishment it would be for a 
ghost or an angel to have no body, to look at a stream of cool water 
and have no feet to plunge into it and get a delightful cooling sen- 
sation from it, to see a dish of Peking or Long Island duck and 
have no tongue to taste it, to see crumpets and have no teeth to 
chew them, to see the beloved faces of our dear ones and have no 
emotions to feel toward them. Terribly sad it would be if we should 
one day return to this earth as ghosts and move silently into our 
children’s bedroom, to see a child lying there in bed and have no 
hands to fondle him and no arms to clasp him, no chest for his 
warmth to penetrate to, no round hollow between cheek and 
shoulder for him to nestle against, and no ears to hear his voice. 

A defense of the angels-without-bodies theory will be found to be 
most vague and unsatisfying. Such a defender might say, “Ah, yes, 
but in the world of spirit, we don’t need such satisfactions.” “But 
what instead have you got?” Complete silence; or perhaps, “Void — 
Peace — Calm.” “What then do you gain by it?” “Absence of work 
and pain and sorrow.” I admit such a heaven has a tremendous 
attraction to galley slaves. Such a negative ideal and conception of 
happiness is dangerously near to Buddhism and is ultimately to be 
traced to Asia (Asia Minor, in this case) rather than Europe. 

Such speculations are necessarily idle, but I may at least point out 
that the conception of a “senseless spirit” is quite unwarranted, since 
we are coming more and more to feel that the universe itself is a 
sentient being. Perhaps motion rather than standing still will be a 
characteristic of the spirit, and one of the pleasures of a bodiless angel 
will be to revolve like a proton around a nucleus at the speed of 
twenty or thirty thousand revolutions a second. There may be a keen 
delight in that, more fascinating than a ride on a Coney Island scenic 
railway. It will certainly be a kind of sensation. Or perhaps the bodi- 
less angel will dart like light or cosmic rays in ethereal waves around 
curved space at the rate of 183,000 miles per second. There must still 


2 7 

be spiritual pigments for the angels to paint and enjoy some form 
of creation, ethereal vibrations for the angels to feel as tone and 
sound and color, and ethereal breeze to brush against the angels’ 
cheeks. Otherwise spirit itself would stagnate like water in a cess- 
pool, or feel like men on a hot, suffocating summer afternoon with- 
out a whiff of fresh air. There must still be motion and emotion (in 
whatever form) if there is to be life; certainly not complete rest and 

IV. A Biological View 

The better knowledge of our own bodily functions and mental 
processes gives us a truer and broader view of ourselves and takes 
away from the word “animal” some of its old bad flavor. The old 
proverb that “to understand is to forgive” is applicable to our own 
bodily and mental processes. It may seem strange, but it is true, 
that the very fact that we have a better understanding of our bodily 
functions makes it impossible for us to look down upon them with 
contempt. The important thing is not to say whether our digestive 
process is noble or ignoble; the important thing is just to understand 
it, and somehow it becomes extremely noble. This is true of every 
biological function or process in our body, from perspiration and 
the elimination of waste to the functions of the pancreatic juice, the 
gall, the endocrine glands and the finer emotive and cogitative 
processes. One no longer despises the kidney, one merely tries to 
understand it; and one no longer looks upon a bad tooth as symbolic 
of the final decay of our body and a reminder to attend to the 
welfare of our soul, but merely goes to a dentist, has it examined, 
explained and properly fixed up. Somehow a man coming out from 
a dentist’s office no longer despises his teeth, but has an increased 
respect for them — because he is going to gnaw apples and chicken 
bones with increased delight. As for the superfine metaphysician 
who says that the teeth belong to the devil, and the Neo-Platonists 
who deny that individual teeth exist, I always get a satirical delight 
in seeing a philosopher suffering from a tooth-ache and an opti- 



mistic poet suffering from dyspepsia. Why doesn’t he go on with 
his philosophic disquisitions, and why does he hold his hand 
against his cheek, just as you or I or the woman in the next house 
would do? And why does optimism seem so unconvincing to a 
dyspeptic poet? Why doesn’t he sing any more? How ungrateful 
it is, of him, therefore, to forget the intestines and sing about the 
spirit when the intestines behave and give him no trouble! 

Science, if anything, has taught us an increased respect for our 
body, by deepening a sense of the wonder and mystery of its work- 
ings. In the first place, genetically, we begin to understand how we 
came about, and see that, instead of being made out of clay, we are 
sitting on the top of the genealogical tree of the animal kingdom. 
That must be a fine sensation, sufficiently satisfying for any man 
who is not intoxicated with his own spirit. Not that I believe dino- 
saurs lived and died millions of years ago in order that we today 
might walk erect with our two legs upon this earth. Without such 
gratuitous assumptions, biology has not at all destroyed a whit of 
human dignity, or cast doubt upon the view that we are probably 
the most splendid animals ever evolved on this earth. So that is 
quite satisfying for any man who wants to insist on human dignity. 
In the second place, we are more impressed than ever with the 
mystery and beauty of the body. The workings of the internal 
parts of our body and the wonderful correlation between them com- 
pel in us a sense of the extreme difficulty with which these correla- 
tions are brought about and the extreme simplicity and finality with 
which they are nevertheless accomplished. Instead of simplifying 
these internal chemical processes by explaining them, science makes 
them all the more difficult to explain. These processes are incredibly 
more difficult than the layman without any knowledge of physiology 
usually imagines. The great mystery of the universe without is 
similar in quality to the mystery of the universe within. 

The more a physiologist tries to analyze and study the bio-phys- 
ical and bio-chemical processes of human physiology, the more his 
wonder increases. That is so to the extent that sometimes it compels 
a physiologist with a broad spirit to accept the mystic’s view of life, 


2 9 

as in the case of Dr. Alexis Carrel. Whether we agree with him or 
not, as he states his opinions in Man, the Unknown, we must agree 
with him that the facts are there, unexplained and unexplainable. 
We begin to acquire a sense of the intelligence of matter itself: 

The organs are correlated by the organic fluids and the 
nervous system. Each element of the body adjusts itself to the 
others, and the others to it. This mode of adaptation is es- 
sentially teleological. If we attribute to tissues an intelligence 
of the same kind as ours, as mechanists and vitalists do, the 
physiological processes appear to associate together in view of 
the end to be attained. The existence of finality within the 
organism is undeniable. Each part seems to know the present 
and future needs of the whole, and acts accordingly. The sig- 
nificance of time and space is not the same for our tissues as 
for our mind. The body perceives the remote as well as the near, 
the future as well as the present . 2 

And we should wonder, for instance, and be extremely amazed that 
our intestines heal their own wounds, entirely without our voluntary 

The wounded loop first becomes immobile. It is temporarily 
paralyzed, and fecal matter is thus prevented from running 
into the abdomen. At the same time, some other intestinal loop, 
or the surface of the omentum, approaches the wound and, 
owing to a known property of peritoneum, adheres to it. Within 
four or five hours the opening is occluded. Even if the sur- 
geon’s needle has drawn the edges of the wound together, 
healing is due to spontaneous adhesion of the peritoneal sur- 
faces . 3 

Why do we despise the body, when the flesh itself shows such 
intelligence ? After all, we are endowed with a body, which is a self- 
nourishing, self-regulating, self-repairing, self-starting and self- 
reproducing machine, installed at birth and lasting like a good 
grandfather clock for three-quarters of a century, requiring very 
little attention. It is a machine provided with wireless vision and 

2 Man, the Unknown, p. 197. 

3 Ibid, p. 200. 

3 o 


wireless hearing, with a more highly complicated system of nerves 
and lymphs than the most complicated telephone and telegraph 
system of the world. It has a system of filing reports done by a vast 
complexus of nerves, managed with such efficiency that some files, 
the less important ones, are kept in the attic and others are kept 
in a more convenient desk, but those kept in the attic, which may 
be thirty years old and rarely referred to, are nevertheless there and 
sometimes can be found with lightning speed and efficiency. Then 
it also manages to go about like a motor car with perfect knee- 
action and absolute silence of engines, and if the motor car has an 
accident and breaks its glass or its steering wheel, the car auto- 
matically exudes or manufactures a substance to replace the glass 
and does its best to grow a steering wheel, or at least manages to 
do the steering with a swollen end of the steering shaft; for we must 
remember that when one of our kidneys is cut out, the other kidney 
swells and increases its function to insure the passage of the normal 
volume of urine. Then it also keeps up a normal temperature within 
a tenth of a Fahrenheit degree, and manufactures its own chemicals 
for the processes of transforming food into living tissues. 

Above all, it has a sense of the rhythm of life, and a sense of 
time, not only of hours and days, but also of decades; the body 
regulates its own childhood, puberty and maturity, stops growing 
when it should no longer grow, and brings forth a wisdom tooth at 
a time when no one of us ever thought of it. Our conscious wisdom 
has nothing to do with our wisdom tooth. It also manufactures 
specific antidotes against poison, on the whole with amazing suc- 
cess, and it does all these things with absolute silence, without the 
usual racket of a factory, so that our superfine metaphysician may 
not be disturbed and is free to think about his spirit or his essence. 

V. Human Life a Poem 

I think that, from a biological standpoint, human life almost reads 
like a poem. It has its own rhythm and beat, its internal cycles of 
growth and decay. It begins with innocent childhood, followed by 


3 1 

awkward adolescence trying awkwardly to adapt itself to mature 
society, with its young passions and follies, its ideals and ambitions; 
then it reaches a manhood of intense activities, profiting from ex- 
perience and learning more about society and human nature; at 
middle age, there is a slight easing of tension, a mellowing of char- 
acter like the ripening of fruit or the mellowing of good wine, and 
the gradual acquiring of a more tolerant, more cynical and at the 
same time a kindlier view of life; then in the sunset of our life, the 
endocrine glands decrease their activity, and if we have a true philos- 
ophy of old age and have ordered our life pattern according to it, it is 
for us the age of peace and security and leisure and contentment; fi- 
nally, life flickers out and one goes into eternal sleep, never to wake 
up again. One should be able to sense the beauty of this rhythm of 
life, to appreciate, as we do in grand symphonies, its main theme, its 
strains of conflict and the final resolution. The movements of these 
cycles are very much the same in a normal life, but the music must 
be provided by the individual himself. In some souls, the discord- 
ant note becomes harsher and harsher and finally overwhelms or 
submerges the main melody. Sometimes the discordant note gains 
so much power that the music can no longer go on, and the indi- 
vidual shoots himself with a pistol or jumps into a river. But that 
is because his original leit-motif has been hopelessly over-shadowed 
through the lack of a good self-education. Otherwise the normal 
human life runs to its normal end in a kind of dignified movement 
and procession. There are sometimes in many of us too many stac- 
catos or impetnosos, and because the tempo is wrong, the music is 
not pleasing to the ear; we might have more of the grand rhythm 
and majestic tempo of the Ganges, flowing slowly and eternally into 
the sea. 

No one can say that a life with childhood, manhood and old age 
is not a beautiful arrangement; the day has its morning, noon and 
sunset, and the year has its seasons, and it is good that it is so. 
There is no good or bad in life, except what is good according to 
its own season. And if we take this biological view of life and try 
to live according to the seasons, no one but a conceited fool or an 



impossible idealist can deny that human life can be lived like a 
poem. Shakespeare has expressed this idea more graphically in his 
passage about the seven stages of life, and a good many Chinese 
writers have said about the same thing. It is curious that Shake- 
speare was never very religious, or very much concerned with re- 
ligion. I think this was his greatness; he took human life largely 
as it was, and intruded himself as little upon the general scheme 
of things as he did upon the characters of his plays. Shakespeare 
was like Nature herself, and that is the greatest compliment we can 
pay to a writer or thinker. He merely lived, observed life and went 

Chapter Three 


I. The Monkey Epic 

BUT if this biological view helps us to appreciate the beauty and 
rhythm of life, it also shows our ludicrous limitations. By presenting 
to us a more correct picture of what we are as animals, it enables us 
to better understand ourselves and the progress of human affairs. 
A more generous sympathy, or even tolerant cynicism, comes with 
a truer and deeper understanding of human nature which has its 
roots in our animal ancestry. Gently reminding ourselves that we 
are children of the Neanderthal or the Peking man, and further 
back still of the anthropoid apes, we eventually achieve the capacity 
of laughing at our sins and limitations, as well as admiring our 
monkey cleverness, which we call a sense of human comedy. This 
is a beautiful thought suggested by the enlightening essay of Clar- 
ence Day, This Simian World. Reading that essay of Day’s, we can 
forgive all our fellowmen, the censors, publicity chiefs, Fascist edi- 
tors, Nazi radio announcers, senators and lawmakers, dictators, eco- 
nomic experts, delegates to international conferences and all the 
busybodies who try to interfere with other people’s lives. We can 
forgive them because we begin to understand them. 

In this sense, I come more and more to appreciate the wisdom and 
insight of the great Chinese monkey epic, Hsiyuchi. The progress 
of human history can be better understood from this point of view; 
it is so similar to the pilgrimage of those imperfect, semi-human 
creatures to the Western Heaven — the Monkey Wuk’ung represent- 
ing the human intellect, the Pig Pachieh representing our lower 
nature, Monk Sand representing common sense, and the Abbot 
Hsiiantsang representing wisdom and the Holy Way. The Abbot, 
protected by this curious escort, was engaged upon a journey from 
China to India to procure sacred Buddhist books. The story of 
human progress is essentially like the pilgrimage of this variegated 
company of highly imperfect creatures, continually landing in dan- 




gers and ludicrous situations through their own folly and mischief. 
How often the Abbot has to correct and chastise the mischievous 
Monkey and the sensuous Pig, forever led by their sadly imperfect 
minds and their lower passions into all sorts of scrapes! The instincts 
of human fraility, of anger, revenge, impetuousness, sensuality, lack 
of forgiveness, above all self-conceit and lack of humility, forever 
crop up during this pilgrimage of mankind toward sainthood. The 
increase of destructiveness goes side by side with the increase of 
human skill, for like the Monkey with magical powers, we are able 
today to walk upon the clouds and turn somersaults in the air 
(which is called “looping-the-loop” in modern terms), to pull 
monkey hair out of our monkey legs and transform them into little 
monkeys to harass our enemy, to knock at the very gates of Heaven, 
brush the Heavenly Gate Keeper brusquely aside and demand a 
place in the company of the gods. 

The Monkey was clever, but he was also conceited; he had enough 
monkey magic to push his way into Heaven, but he had not enough 
sanity and balance and temperance of spirit to live peacefully there. 
Too good perhaps for this earth and its mortal existence, he was yet 
not good enough for Heaven and the company of the immortals. 
There was something raw and mischievous and rebellious in him, 
some dregs unpurged in his gold, and that was why when he entered 
Heaven he created a terrific scare there, like a wild lion let loose 
from a menagerie cage in the streets of a city, in the preliminary 
episode before he joined the pilgrims’ party. Through his inborn 
incorrigible mischief, he spoiled the Annual Dinner Party given by 
the Western Queen Mother of Heaven to all the gods, saints, and 
immortals of Heaven. Enraged that he was not invited to the party, 
he posed as a messenger of God and sent the Bare-Footed Fairy on 
his way to the feast in a wrong direction by telling him that the 
place of the party had been changed, and then transformed himself 
into the shape of the Bare-Footed Fairy and went to the feast him- 
self. Quite a number of other fairies had been misled by him in this 
way. Then entering the courtyard, he saw he was the first arrival. 
Nobody was there except the servants guarding the jars of fairy 



wine in the corridor. He then transformed himself into a sleeping- 
sickness insect and stung the servants into sleep and drunk the jars 
of wine. Half intoxicated, he tumbled into the hall and ate up the 
celestial peaches laid out at table. When the guests arrived and saw 
the despoiled dinner, he was already off for some other exploits at 
the home of Laotse, trying to eat his pills of immortality. Finally, 
still in disguise, he left Heaven, partly afraid of the consequences of 
his drunken exploits, but chiefly disgusted because he had not been 
invited to the Annual Dinner. He returned to his Monkey Kingdom 
where he was the king and told the little monkeys so, and set up 
a banner of rebellion against Heaven, writing on it the words “The 
Great Sage, Equal to Heaven.” There followed then terrific combats 
between this Monkey and the heavenly warriors, in which the 
Monkey was not captured until the Goddess of Mercy knocked 
him down with a gentle sprig of flowers from the clouds. 

So, like the Monkey, forever we rebel and there will be no peace 
and humility in us until we are vanquished by the Goddess of 
Mercy, whose gentle flowers dropped from Heaven will knock us 
off our feet. And we shall not learn the lesson of true humility until 
science has explored the limits of the universe. For in the epic, the 
Monkey still rebelled even after his capture and demanded of the 
Jade Emperor in Heaven why he was not given a higher title among 
the gods, and he had to learn the lesson of humility by an ultimate 
bet with Buddha or God Himself. He made a bet that with his 
magical powers he could go as far as the end of the earth, and the 
stake was the tide of “The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven,” or else 
complete submission. Then he leaped into the air, and traveled 
with lightning speed across the continents until he came to a moun- 
tain with five peaks, which he thought must be as far as mortal 
beings had ever set foot. In order to leave a record of his having 
reached the place, he passed some monkey urine at the foot of the 
middle peak, and having satisfied himself with this feat, he came 
back and told Buddha about his journey. Buddha then opened one 
hand and asked him to smell his own urine at the base of the middle 
finger, and told him how all this time he had never left the palm. 



It was only then that the Monkey acquired humility, and after being 
chained to a rock for five hundred years, was freed by the Abbot 
and joined him in his pilgrimage. 

After all, this Monkey, which is an image of ourselves, is an ex- 
tremely lovable creature, in spite of his conceit and his mischief. 
So should we, too, be able to love humanity in spite of all its weak- 
nesses and shortcomings. 

II. In the Image of the Monkey 

So then, instead of holding on to the Biblical view that we are 
made in the image of God, we come to realize that we are made in 
the image of the monkey, and that we are as far removed from the 
perfect God, as, let us say, the ants are removed from ourselves. We 
are very clever, we are quite sure of that; we are often a little cocky 
about our cleverness, because we have a mind. But the biologist 
comes in to tell us that the mind after all is a very late development, 
as far as articulate thinking is concerned, and that among the things 
which go into the make-up of our moral fiber, we have besides the 
mind a set of animal or savage instincts, which are much more 
powerful and are in fact the explanation why we misbehave individ- 
ually and in our group fife. We are the better able to understand 
the nature of that human mind of which we are so proud. We 
see in the first place that, besides being a comparatively clever mind, 
it is also an inadequate mind. The evolution of the human skull 
shows us that it is nothing but an enlargement of one of the spinal 
vertebrae and that therefore its function, like that of the spinal cord, 
is essentially that of sensing danger, meeting the external environ- 
ment and preserving life — not thinking. Thinking is generally very 
poorly done. Lord Balfour ought to go down to posterity on the 
strength of his one saying that “the human brain is as much an 
organ for seeking food as the pig’s snout.” I do not call this real 
cynicism, I call it merely a generous understanding of ourselves. 

We begin to understand genetically our human imperfections. 
Imperfect? Lord, yes, but the Lord never made us otherwise. But 



that is not the point. The whole point is, our remote ancestors swam 
and crawled and swung from one branch to another in the primeval 
forest in Tarzan fashion, or hung suspended from a tree like a 
spider monkey by an arm or a tail . 1 At each stage, considered by 
itself, it was rather marvelously perfect, to my way of thinking. But 
now we are called upon to do an infinitely more difficult job of 

When man creates a civilization of his own, he embarks upon a 
course of development that biologically might terrify the Creator 
Himself. So far as adaptation to nature is concerned, all nature’s 
creatures are marvelously perfect, for those that are not perfecdy 
adapted she kills off. But now we are no longer called upon to adapt 
ourselves to nature; we are called upon to adapt ourselves to our- 
selves, to this thing called civilization. All instincts were good, 
were healthy in nature; in society, however, we call all instincts 
savage. Every mouse steals — and he is not the less moral or more 
immoral for stealing — every dog barks, every cat doesn’t come 
home at night and tears everything it can lay its paws upon, every 
lion kills, every horse runs away from the sight of danger, every 
tortoise sleeps the best hours of the day away, and every insect, 
reptile, bird and beast reproduces its kind in public. Now in terms 
of civilization, every mouse is a thief, every dog makes too much 
noise, every cat is an unfaithful husband, when he is not a savage 
little vandal, every lion or tiger is a murderer, every horse a coward, 
every tortoise a lazy louse, and finally, every insect, reptile, bird and 
beast is obscene when he performs his natural vital functions. What 
a wholesale transformation of values! And that is the reason why we 
sit back and wonder how the Lord made us so imperfect. 

1 Is this the reason why, when we are on a swing and about to swing forward 
after swinging backward, we get a tingle at the end of our spinal cord, where a 
tail formerly was? The reflex is still there and we are trying to catch on to some- 
thing by a tail which has already disappeared. 



III. On Being Mortal 

There are grave consequences following upon our having this 
mortal body: first our being mortal, then our having a stomach, 
having strong muscles and having a curious mind. These facts, 
because of their basic character, profoundly influence the character 
of human civilization. Because this is so obvious, we never think 


about it. But we cannot understand ourselves and our civilization 
unless we see these consequences clearly. 

I suspect that all democracy, all poetry, and all philosophy start 
out from this God-given fact that all of us, princes and paupers 
alike, are limited to a body of five or six feet and live a life of fifty 
or sixty years. On the whole, the arrangement is quite handy. We 
are neither too long nor too short. At least I am quite satisfied with 
five feet four. And fifty or sixty years seems to me such an awfully 
long time; it is, in fact, a matter of two or three generations. It is 
so arranged that when we are born, we see certain old grandfathers, 
who die in the course of time, and when we become grandfathers 
ourselves, we see other tiny tots being born. That seems to make it 
just perfect. The whole philosophy of the matter lies in the Chinese 
saying that “A man may own a thousand acres of land, and yet he 
still sleeps upon a bed of five feet” or sixty inches. It doesn’t seem 
as if a king needed very much more than seven feet at the outside 
for his bed, and there he will have to go and stretch himself at 
night. I am therefore as good as a king. And no matter how rich a 
man is, few exceed the Biblical limit of threescore and ten. To live 
beyond seventy is to be called in Chinese “ancient-rare,” because of 
the Chinese line that “it is rare for man to live over seventy since 
the ancient times.” 

And so in respect of wealth. Of this life, everybody has a share, 
but no one owns the mortgage. And so we are enabled to take this 
life more lightly; instead of being permanent tenants upon this 
earth, we become its transient guests, for guests we all are of this 
earth, the owners of the land no less than the share-croppers. It 
takes something out of the meaning of the word “landlord.” No one 



really owns a house and no one really owns a field. As a Chinese 
poet says: 

What pretty, golden fields against a hill! 

Newcomers harvest crops that others till. 

Rejoice not, O newcomers, at your harvest; 

One waits behind — a new newcomer still! 

The democracy of death is seldom appreciated. Without death, 
even St. Helena would have meant nothing to Napoleon, and I do 
not know what Europe would be like. There would be no biographies 
of heroes or conquerors, and even if there were, their biographers 
certainly would be less forgiving and sympathetic. We forgive 
the great of this world because they are dead. By their being dead, 
we feel that we have got even with them. Every funeral procession 
carries a banner upon which are written the words, “Equality of 
Mankind.” What joy of life is seen in the following ballad that the 
oppressed people of China composed about the death of Ch’in Shih- 
huang, the builder of the Great Wall and the tyrant, who, while he 
lived, made “libellous thoughts in the belly” punishable by death, 
burned the Confucian books and buried hundreds of Confucian 
scholars alive: 

Ch’in Shih-huang is going to die! 2 
He opened my door, 

And sat on my floor, 

He drank my gravy, 

And wanted some more. 

He sipped my wine, 

And couldn’t tell what for; 

I’ll bend my bow, 

And shoot him at the wall. 

When he arrives at Shach’iu, 

Then he is going to fall! 

From this, then, a sense of human comedy and the very stuff of 
human poetry and philosophy take their rise. He who perceives 

2 By inversion, these ballads were reported by the Chinese historians as prophetic 
oracles, giving expression to the voice of God through the voice of the people. That 
explains the future tense. The Emperor did die at Shach’iu. 


4 ° 

death perceives a sense of the human comedy, and quickly becomes 
a poet. Shakespeare became a deep poet, when he had Hamlet 
trace the noble dust of Alexander, “till he find it stopping a bung- 
hole”; “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth 
into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of 
that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer- 
barrel?” There is, after all, no more superb sense of comedy in 
Shakespeare than when he let King Richard II talk of graves, of 
worms and epitaphs and the antic that keeps court within the hol- 
low crown that rounds the mortal temples of a king, or where he 
speaks of “a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, 
his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries,” with all his fines end- 
ing in a “fine pate full of fine dirt.” Omar Khayyam and his Chi- 
nese counterpart, Chia Fuhsi ( alias Mup’itse, an obscure Chinese 
poet), derived all their comic spirit and comic interpretation of his- 
tory from the sense of death itself, by pointing to the foxes making 
their homes in the kings’ graves. And Chinese philosophy first ac- 
quired depth and humor with Chuangtse, who based his entire 
philosophy, too, on a comment on the sight of a skull: 

Chuangtse went to Ch’u and saw an empty skull with its 
empty and dried outline. He struck it with a horsewhip and 
asked it, “Hast thou come to this because thou loved pleasures 
and lived inordinately? Wert thou a refugee running away 
from the law? Didst thou do something wrong to bring shame 
upon thy parents and thy family? Or wert thou starved to 
death? Or didst thou come to thy old age and die a natural 
death?” Having said this, Chuangtse took the skull and slept 
upon it as a pillow. . . . 

When Chuangtse’s wife died, Hueitse went to express his 
condolence but found Chuangtse squatting on the ground and 
singing a song, beating time by striking an earthen basin. “Why, 
this woman has lived with you and borne you children. At the 
worst, you might refrain from weeping when her old body dies. 

Is it not rather too much that you should beat the basin and 

And Chuangtse replied, “You are mistaken. When she first 
died, I could not also help feeling sad and moved, but I re- 


4 * 

fleeted that in the beginning she had no life, and not only no 
life, she had no bodily shape; and not only no bodily shape, she 
had no ghost. Caught in this everchanging flux of things, she 
became a ghost, the ghost became a body, and the body became 
alive. Now she has changed again and become dead, and by so 
doing she has joined the eternal procession of spring, summer, 
autumn and winter. Why should I make so much noise and 
wail and weep over her while her body lies quietly there in the 
big house? That would be a failure to understand the course 
of things. That is why I stopped crying.” 

Thus I see both poetry and philosophy began with the recognition 
of our mortality and a sense of the evanescence of time. This sense 
of life’s evanescence is back of all Chinese poetry, as well as of a 
good part of Western poetry — the feeling that life is essentially but 
a dream, while we row, row our boat down the river in the sunset 
of a beautiful afternoon, that flowers cannot bloom forever, the 
moon waxes and wanes, and human life itself joins the eternal pro- 
cession of the plant and animal worlds in being born, growing to 
maturity and dying to make room for others. Man began to be 
philosophical only when he saw the vanity of this earthly existence. 
Chuangtse said that he once dreamed of being a butterfly, and while 
he was in the dream, he felt he could flutter his wings and every- 
thing was real, but that on waking up, he realized that he was 
Chuangtse and Chuangtse was real. Then he thought and wondered 
which was really real, whether he was really Chuangtse dreaming 
of being a butterfly, or really a butterfly dreaming of being 
Chuangtse. Life, then, is really a dream, and we human beings are 
like travelers floating down the eternal river of time, embarking at 
a certain point and disembarking again at another point in order 
to make room for others waiting below the river to come aboard. 
Half of the poetry of life would be gone, if we did not feel that 
life was either a dream, or a voyage with transient travelers, or 
merely a stage in which the actors seldom realized that they were 
playing their parts. So wrote a Chinese scholar, Liu Tasheng, to his 



Of all the things in the world, that in which we are most 
earnest is to be an official, and that which we call the most friv- 
olous is to be an actor in a play. But I think this is all foolishness. 
I have often seen on the stage how the actors sing and weep 
and scold each other and crack jokes, believing that they are real 
people. But the real thing in a play is not the ancient characters 
thus being enacted, but rather these actors who enact them. 
They all have their parents, wives and children, all want to feed 
their parents, wives and children, and all do so by singing and 
weeping and laughing and scolding and cracking jokes. They 
are the real ancient characters that they try to portray. I have 
also seen how some of these actors, who wear an official cap 
and gown and by their own acting believe themselves to be real 
officials, so much so that they think no one in the world ever 
suspects they are acting. They do not realize that while they bow 
and kowtow to each other and sit and talk and look about, and 
even while they are the dignified officials before whom the pris- 
oners tremble, they are only actors who by their singing and 
weeping and laughing and scolding and cracking jokes are try- 
ing to feed their parents, wives and children! Alas! that there 
are people who stick to a certain play, a certain role, a certain 
text and a certain accent or style of delivery, until the entire asset 
of their bowels and internal organs (i.e., instincts and emotions) 
are dominated by the play, without realizing once that they 
are really actors! 

IV. On Having a Stomach 

One of the most important consequences of our being animals is 
that we have got this bottomless pit called the stomach. This fact 
has colored our entire civilization. The Chinese epicure Li Liweng 
wrote a complaint about our having this bottomless pit, in the prefa- 
tory note to the section on food in his book on the general art of 

I see that the organs of the human body, the ear, the eye, the 
nose, the tongue, the hands, the feet and the body, have all a 
necessary function, but the two organs which are totally unnec- 
essary but with which we are nevertheless endowed are the 
mouth and the stomach, which cause all the worry and trouble 



of mankind throughout the ages. With this mouth and this 
stomach, the matter of getting a living becomes complicated, and 
when the matter of getting a living becomes complicated, we 
have cunning and falsehood and dishonesty in human affairs. 
With the coming of cunning and falsehood and dishonesty in 
human affairs, comes the criminal law, so that the king is not 
able to protect with his mercy, the parents are not able to gratify 
their love, and even the kind Creator is forced to go against His 
will. All this comes of a little lack of forethought in His design 
for the human body at the time of the creation, and is the con- 
sequence of our having these two organs. The plants can live 
without a mouth and a stomach, and the rocks and the soil have 
their being without any nourishment. Why, then, must we be 
given a mouth and a stomach and endowed with these two extra 
organs? And even if we were to be endowed with these organs, 
He could have made it possible for us to derive our nourishment 
as the fish and shell fish derive theirs from water, or the cricket 
and the cicada from the dew, who all are able to obtain their 
growth and energy this way and swim or fly or jump or sing. 
Had it been like this, we should not have to struggle in this life 
and the sorrows of mankind would have disappeared. On the 
other hand, He has given us not only these two organs, but has 
also endowed us with manifold appetites or desires, besides mak- 
ing the pit bottomless, so that it is like a valley or a sea that can 
never be filled. The consequence is that we labor in our life with 
all the energy of the other organs, in order to supply inade- 
quately the needs of these two. I have thought over this mat- 
ter over and over again, and cannot help blaming the Creator 
for it. I know, of course, that He must have repented of His 
mistake also, but simply feels that nothing can be done about 
it now, since the design or pattern is already fixed. How impor- 
tant it is for a man to be very careful at the time of the concep- 
tion of a law or an institution! 

There is certainly nothing to be done about it, now that we have 
got this bottomless pit to fill, and the fact of our having possessed 
a stomach has, to say the least, colored the course of human history. 
With a generous understanding of human nature, Confucius reduced 
the great desires of human beings to two: alimentation and repro- 
duction, or in simpler terms, food and drink and women. Many 



men have circumvented sex, but no saint has yet circumvented food 
and drink. There are ascetics who have learned to live a continent 
life, but even the most spiritual of men cannot forget about food 
for more than four or five hours. The most constant refrain of our 
thought occurring unfailingly every few hours is, “When do I eat?” 
This occurs at least three times a day, and in some cases four or 
five times. International conferences, in the midst of discussion of 
the most absorbing and most critical political situations, have to 
break up for the noon meal. Parliaments have to adjust their sched- 
ule of sessions to meal hours. A coronation ceremony that lasts more 
than five or six hours or conflicts with the midday meal, will be 
immediately denounced as a public nuisance. And stomach-gifted 
that we all are, the best arrangement we can think of when we 
gather to render public homage to a grandfather is to give him a 
birthday feast. 

There is a reason for it. Friends that meet at meals meet at peace. 
A good birds’ nest soup or a delicious chow mein has the tendency 
to assuage the heat of our arguments and tone down the harshness 
of our conflicting points of view. Put two of the best friends together 
when they are hungry, and they will invariably end up in a quarrel. 
The effect of a good meal lasts not only a few hours, but for weeks 
and months. We rather hesitate to review unfavorably a book writ- 
ten by somebody who gave us a good dinner three or four months 
ago. It is for this reason that, with the Chinese deep insight into 
human nature, all quarrels and disputes are settled at dinner tables 
instead of at the court of justice. The pattern of Chinese life is such 
that we not only settle disputes at dinner, after they have arisen, but 
also forestall the arising of disputes by the same means. In China, 
we bribe our way into the good will of everybody by frequent din- 
ners. It is, in fact, the only safe guide to success in politics. Should 
some one take the trouble of compiling statistical figures, he would 
be able to find an absolute correlation between the number of din- 
ners a man gives to his friends and the rate or speed of his official 

But, constituted as we all are, how can we react otherwise? I do 



not think this is peculiarly Chinese. How can an American post- 
master-general or chief of department decline a private request for 
a personal favor from some friend at whose home he has eaten five 
or six good meals? I bet on the Americans being as human as the 
Chinese. The only difference is the Americans haven’t got insight 
into human nature or haven’t proceeded logically to organize their 
political life in accordance with it. I guess there is something similar 
to this Chinese way of life in the American political world, too, 
since I cannot but believe human nature is very much the same and 
we are all so much alike under the skin. Only I don’t notice it prac- 
ticed so generally as in China. The only thing I have heard of is that 
candidates for public office give outings for the families in the dis- 
tricts, bribing the mothers by feeding their children with ice cream 
and soda pop. The inevitable conviction of the people after such a 
public feeding is that “He’s a jolly good fellow,” which usually 
bursts out in song. This is merely another form of the practice of 
the medieval lords and nobles in Europe who, on the occasion of a 
wedding or a noble’s birthday, gave their tenants a generous feast 
with liberal meats and wine. 

So basically influenced are we by this matter of food and drink 
that revolutions, peace, war, patriotism, international understanding, 
our daily life and the whole fabric of human social life are pro- 
foundly influenced by it. What was the cause of the French Revolu- 
tion? Rousseau and Voltaire and Diderot? No, just food. What is 
the cause of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet experiment? Just 
food again. As for war, Napoleon showed the essential depth of his 
wisdom by saying that “an army fights on its stomach.” And what 
is the use of saying, “Peace, Peace” when there is no peace below 
the diaphragm? This applies to nations as well as individuals. Em- 
pires have collapsed and the most powerful regimes and reigns of 
terror have broken down when the people were hungry. Men refuse 
to work, soldiers refuse to fight, prima donnas refuse to sing, sena- 
tors refuse to debate, and even presidents refuse to rule the country 
when they are hungry. And what does a husband work and sweat 
in the office the whole day for, except the prospect of a good meal 


4 6 

at home? Hence the proverb that the best way to a man’s heart is 
through his stomach. When his flesh is satisfied, his spirit is calmer 
and more at ease, and he becomes more amorous and appreciative. 
Wives have complained that husbands don’t notice their new dresses, 
new shoes, new eyebrows, or new covers for chairs. But have wives 
ever complained that husbands don’t notice a good steak or a good 
omelette? . . . What is patriotism but love of the good things we 
ate in our childhood? I have said elsewhere that the loyalty to 
Uncle Sam is the loyalty to doughnuts and ham and sweet potatoes 
and the loyalty to the German Vaterland is the loyalty to Pfann- 
hiichen and Christmas Stollen. As for international understanding, 
I feel that macaroni has done more for our appreciation of Italy 
than Mussolini. It is a pity that, in the minds of some people, at 
least, who are not in favor of the Mussolini regime, what macaroni 
has done Mussolini has undone in the cause of understanding be- 
tween Italy and the outside world. That is because in food, as in 
death, we feel the essential brotherhood of mankind. 

How a Chinese spirit glows over a good feast! How apt is he to 
cry out that life is beautiful when his stomach and his intestines 
are well-filled! From this well-filled stomach suffuses and radiates 
a happiness that is spiritual. The Chinese relies upon instinct and 
his instinct tells him that when the stomach is right, everything is 
right. That is why I claim for the Chinese a life closer to instinct 
and a philosophy that makes a more open acknowledgment of it 
possible. The Chinese idea of happiness is, as I have noted elsewhere, 
being “warm, well-filled, dark and sweet” — referring to the condi- 
tion of going to bed after a good supper. It is for this reason that a 
Chinese poet says, “A well-filled stomach is indeed a great thing; 
all else is luxury.” 

With this philosophy, therefore, the Chinese have no prudery 
about food, or about eating it with gusto. When a Chinese drinks 
a mouthful of good soup, he gives a hearty smack. Of course, that 
would be bad table manners in the West. On the other hand, I 
strongly suspect that Western table manners, compelling us to sip 
our soup noiselessly and eat our food quietly with the least expres- 



sion of enjoyment, are the true reason for the arrested development 
of the art of cuisine. Why do the Westerners talk so sofdy and look 
so miserable and decent and respectable at their meals? Most Ameri- 
cans haven’t got the good sense to take a chicken drumstick in their 
hand and chew it clean, but continue to pretend to play at it with 
a knife and fork, feeling utterly miserable and afraid to say a thing 
about it. This is criminal when the chicken is really good. As for 
the so-called table manners, I feel sure that the child gets his first in- 
itiation into the sorrows of this life when his mother forbids him to 
smack his lips. Such is human psychology that if we don’t express 
our joy, we soon cease to feel it even, and then follow dyspepsia, 
melancholia, neurasthenia and all the mental ailments peculiar to 
the adult life. One ought to imitate the French and sigh an “Ah!” 
when the waiter brings a good veal cutlet, and makes a sheer animal 
grunt like “Ummm!” after tasting the first mouthful. What shame 
is there in enjoying one’s food, what shame in having a normal, 
healthy appetite? No, the Chinese are different. They have bad table 
manners, but great enjoyment of a feast. 

In fact, I believe the reason why the Chinese failed to develop 
botany and zoology is that the Chinese scholar cannot stare coldly 
and unemotionally at a fish without immediately thinking of how 
it tastes in the mouth and wanting to eat it. The reason I don’t trust 
Chinese surgeons is that I am afraid that when a Chinese surgeon 
cuts up my liver in search of a gall-stone, he may forget about the 
stone and put my liver in a frying pan. For I see a Chinese cannot 
look at a porcupine without immediately thinking of ways and 
means of cooking and eating its flesh without being poisoned. Not to 
be poisoned is for the Chinese the only practical, important aspect of 
it. The taste of the porcupine meat is supremely important, if it 
should add one more flavor known to our palate. The bristles of 
the porcupine don’t interest us. How they arose, what is their func- 
tion and how they are connected with the porcupine’s skin and 
endowed with the power of sticking up at the sight of an enemy are 
questions that seem to the Chinese eminently idle. And so with 
all the animals and plants, the proper point of view is how we 



humans can enjoy them and not what they are in themselves. The 
song of the bird, the color of the flower, the petals of the orchid, 
the texture of chicken meat are the things that concern us. The East 
has to learn from the West the entire sciences of botany and zoology, 
but the West has to learn from the East how to enjoy the trees, the 
flowers, and the fishes, birds and animals, to get a full appreciation 
of the contours and gestures of different species and associate them 
with different moods or feelings. 

Food, then, is one of the very few solid joys of human life. It is 
a happy fact that this instinct of hunger is less hedged about with 
taboos and a social code than the other instinct of sex, and that 
generally speaking, no question of morality arises in connection with 
food. There is much less prudery about food than there is about 
sex. It is a happy condition of affairs that philosophers, poets, mer- 
chants and artists can join together at a dinner, and without a blush 
perform the function of feeding themselves in open public, although 
certain savage tribes are known to have developed a sense of mod- 
esty about food and eat only when they are individually alone. The 
problem of sex will come in for consideration later, but here at least 
is an instinct which, because less hampered, produces fewer forms 
of perversion and insanity and criminal behavior. This difference 
between the instinct of hunger and the instinct of sex in their social 
implications is quite natural. But the fact remains that here is one 
instinct which does not complicate our psychological life, but is a 
pure boon to humanity. The reason is because it is the one instinct 
about which humanity is pretty frank. Because there is no problem 
of modesty here, there is no psychosis, neurosis or perversion con- 
nected with it. There is many a slip between the cup and the lip, 
but once food gets inside the lips, there is comparatively little side- 
tracking. It is freely admitted that everybody must have food, which 
is not the case with the sexual instinct. And being gratified, it leads 
to no trouble. At the worst, some people eat their way into dyspepsia, 
or an ulcered stomach or a hardened liver, and a few dig their graves 
with their own teeth — there are cases of Chinese dignitaries among 


my contemporaries who do this — but even then, they are not 
ashamed of it. 

For the same reason, fewer social crimes arise from food than from 
sex. The criminal code has comparatively little to do with the sins 
of illegal, immoral and faithless eating, while it has a large section 
on adultery, divorce, and assault on women. At the worst, husbands 
may ransack the icebox, but we seldom hang a man for spiking a 
Frigidaire. Should such a case ever be brought up, the judge will 
be found to be full of compassion. The frank admission of the neces- 
sity of every man feeding himself makes this possible. Our hearts 
go out to people in famine, but not to the cloistered nuns. 

This speculation is far from being idle because there is little public 
ignorance about the subject of food, as compared with public igno- 
rance on the subject of sex, which is appalling. There are Manchu 
families which school their daughters in the art of love as well as in 
the art of cooking before their marriage, but how much of this is 
done elsewhere in the world? The subject of food enjoys the sun- 
shine of knowledge, but sex is still surrounded with fairy tales, 
myths and superstitions. There is sunshine about the subject of food, 
but very little sunshine about the subject of sex. 

On the other hand, it is highly unfortunate that we haven’t got a 
gizzard or a crop or a maw. In that case, human society would be 
altered beyond recognition; in fact, we should have an altogether 
different race of men. A human race endowed with gullets or giz- 
zards would be found to have the most peaceful, contented and 
sweet nature, like the chicken or the lamb. We might grow a beak, 
which would alter our sense of beauty, or we might have merely 
done with rodent teeth. Seeds and fruits might be sufficient, or we 
might pasture on the green hillsides, for Nature is so abundant. 
Because we should not have to fight for our food and dig our teeth 
into the flesh of our defeated enemy, we would not be the terrible 
warlike creatures that we are today. 

There is a closer relation between food and temperament— in Na- 
ture’s terms — than we thought. All herbivorous animals are peaceful 
by nature: the lamb, the horse, the cow, the elephant, the sparrow, 



etc.; all carnivorous animals are fighters: the wolf, the lion, the tiger, 
the hawk, etc. Had we been an herbivorous race, our nature would 
certainly be more elephantine. Nature does not produce a pugna- 
cious temperament where no fighting is needed. Cocks still fight 
with each other, but they fight not about food, but about women. 
There would still be a little fighting of this sort among the males 
in human society, but it would be vastly different from this fighting 
for exported canned goods that we see in present-day Europe. 

I do not know about monkeys eating monkeys, but I do know 
about men eating men, for certainly all evidences of anthropology 
point to a pretty universal practice of cannibalism. That was our 
carnivorous ancestry. Is it therefore any wonder that we are still 
eating each other in more senses than one — individually, socially and 
internationally ? There is this much to be said for the cannibals, that 
they are sensible about this matter of killing. Conceding that killing 
is an undesirable but unavoidable evil, they proceed to get something 
out of it by eating the delicious sirloins, ribs and livers of their dead 
enemies. The difference between cannibals and civilized men seems 
to be that cannibals kill their enemies and eat them, while civilized 
men kill their foes and bury them, put a cross over their bodies and 
offer up prayers for their souls. Thus we add stupidity to conceit 
and a bad temper. 

I quite realize that we are on the road to perfection, which means 
that we are excusably imperfect at present. That, I think, is what we 
are. Not until we develop a gizzard temper can we call ourselves 
truly civilized. I see in the present generation of men both carnivo- 
rous and herbivorous animals — those who have a sweet temper and 
those who have not. The herbivorous men go their way through life 
minding their own business, while the carnivorous men make their 
living by minding that of others. If I abjured politics ten years ago, 
after having a foretaste of it during four months, it was because I 
early made the discovery that I was not by nature a carnivorous 
animal, although I enjoy a good steak. Half of the world spends its 
time doing things, and half the world spends its time making others 
do things for them, or making it impossible for others to do any- 



thing. The characteristic of the carnivorous is a certain sheer delight 
in pugilism, logrolling, wire-pulling, and in double-crossing, outwit- 
ting and forestalling the enemy, all done with a genuine interest and 
real ability, for which, however, I confess I fail to have the slightest 
appreciation. But it is all a matter of instinct; men born with this 
pugilistic instinct seem to enjoy and revel in it, while real creative 
ability, ability in doing their own jobs or knowing their own sub- 
jects, seems at the same time usually to be underdeveloped. How 
many good, quiet herbivorous professors are totally lacking in ra- 
pacity and the ability to get ahead in competition with others, and 
yet how truly I admire them! In fact I may essay the opinion that 
all the world’s creative artists are vastly better at minding their own 
business than minding that of others, and are therefore of the herbiv- 
orous species. True evolution of mankind consists in the multipli- 
cation of the herbivorous homo sapiens over against the carnivorous 
variety. For the moment, however, the carnivorous must still be our 
rulers. That must be so in a world believing in strong muscles. 

V. On Having Strong Muscles 

Another important consequence of our being animals and of our 
having mortal bodies is that we are susceptible to murder, and the 
average man doesn’t like murder. True, we have a divine desire for 
knowledge and wisdom, but with knowledge come also differences 
of point of view and therefore arguments. Now in a world of im- 
mortals, arguments would last forever, for I can conceive of no way 
of settling a dispute, if neither of the disputing immortals is willing 
to admit that he is wrong. In a world of mortals, the situation is 
different. The disputing party generally gets so obnoxious in the 
eyes of his opponent — and the more obnoxious he will appear, the 
more embarrassingly right his arguments are — so that the latter just 
kills him, and that settles the argument. If “A” kills “B,” “A” is 
right; and if “B” kills “A,” “B” is right. This, we hardly need re- 
mind ourselves, is the old, old method of settling arguments among 
brutes. In the animal kingdom, the lion is always right. 

5 2 


This is basically so true of human society that it offers a good in- 
terpretation of human history, even down to the present time. After 
all, Galileo retracted as well as discovered certain ideas about the 
roundness of the earth and the solar system. He retracted because he 
had a mortal body, susceptible to murder or torture. It would have 
taken infinite trouble to have argued with Galileo, and if Galileo had 
had no mortal body, you could never have convinced him that he 
was wrong, and that would have been an eternal nuisance. As it was, 
however, a torture chamber or a prison cell, not to speak of the 
gallows or the stake, sufficed to show how wrong he was. The 
clergy and the gentlemen of the period were determined to have 
a showdown with Galileo. The fact that Galileo was convinced that 
he was wrong strengthened the belief of the clergy of that period 
that they were right. That settled the matter very neatly. 

There is something convenient and handy and efficient about this 
method of settling quarrels. Wars of depredation, religious wars, 
the conflict of Saladin and the Christians, the Inquisition, the burn- 
ing of witches, the more modern preaching of the Christian gospel 
and proselytizing of heathens by gun-boats, the bearing of the White 
Man’s Burden by the same means, the spread of civilization to Ethi- 
opia by Mussolini’s tanks and airplanes — all these proceed upon this 
animal logic to which all mankind is heir. If the Italians have better 
guns and shoot straighter and kill more people, Mussolini carries 
civilization to Ethiopia, and if, on the other hand, the Ethiopians 
have better guns and shoot straighter and kill more people, then 
Haile Selassie carries civilization to Italy. 

There is something of the noble lion in us that disdains argu- 
ments. Hence our glorification of the soldier because he makes 
short shrift with dissenters. The quickest way to shut up a man who 
believes he is right, and who shows the propensity to argue, is to 
hang him. Men resort to talking only when they haven’t the power 
to enforce their convictions upon others. On the other hand, men 
who act and have the power to act seldom talk. They despise argu- 
ments. After all, we talk in order to influence people, and if we know 
we can influence people, or control them, where is the need for 



talking at all? In this connection, is it not somewhat disheartening 
that the League of Nations talked so much during the last Manchu- 
rian and Ethiopian wars? It was altogether pathetic. There is 
something ominous about this quality of the League of Nations. 
On the other hand, this method of settling arguments by force can 
sometimes be carried to absurdity, if there is no sense of humor, 
as when the Japanese actually believe they can stamp out anti- 
Japanese feeling among the Chinese by bombing and machine-gun- 
ning them. That is why I am always slow to admit that we are 
rational animals. 

I have always thought that the League of Nations was an excel- 
lent School for Modern Languages, specializing in translation 
of the modern tongues, giving the hearers excellent practice by first 
making an accomplished orator deliver a perfect address in English, 
and after the audience is thus made acquainted with the gist and 
content of the speech, having it rendered into fluent, flawless, classi- 
cal French by a professional translator, with intonation, accent and 
all. In fact, it is better than the Berlitz School; it is a school of mod- 
ern languages and public speaking to boot. One of my friends, in 
fact, reported that, after a six months’ stay at Geneva, his lisping 
habit which had bothered him for years was cured. But the amazing 
fact is that even in this League of Nations, consecrated to the ex- 
change of opinions, in an institution that conceivably has no other 
purpose than talking, there should be a distinction between Big 
Talkers and Small Talkers, the Big Talkers being those having Big 
Fists, and the Small Talkers being those having Small Fists, which 
shows the whole thing is quite silly, if not a fake. As if the nations 
with Small Fists couldn’t talk as fluently as the others! That is to say, 
if we mean just talking. ... I cannot but think that this inherent 
belief in the eloquence of the Big Fist belongs to that animal heritage 
we have spoken of. (I shouldn’t like to use the word “brute” here, 
and yet it would seem most appropriate in this connection.) 

Of course, the gist of the matter lies in the fact that mankind is 
endowed with a chattering instinct as well as the fighting instinct. 
The tongue is, historically speaking, as old as the fist or the strong 



arm. The ability to talk distinguishes man from animals, and the 
mixture of verbiage and barrage seems to be a peculiarly human 
trait. This would seem to point to the permanency of institutions 
like the League of Nations, or the American Senate, or a tradesmen’s 
convention — anything that affords men an opportunity to talk. It 
seems we humans are destined to chatter in order to find out who is 
right. That is all right; chattering is a characteristic of the angels. 
The peculiarly human trait lies in the fact that we chatter to a 
certain point until one of the parties of the dispute who has a 
stronger arm feels so embarrassed or angered — “Embarrassment 
leads naturally to anger,” the Chinese say — until that embarrassed 
and therefore angered party thinks that this chattering has gone far 
enough, bangs the table, takes his opponent by the neck, gives him 
a wallop, and then looks about and asks the audience, which is the 
jury, “Am I right or am I wrong?” And as we learn at every tea 
house, the audience invariably replies, “You are right!” Only humans 
ever settle a thing like that. Angels settle arguments all by chatter; 
brutes settle arguments all by muscle and claws; human beings 
alone settle them by a strange confusion of muscle and chatter. 
Angels believe sheerly in right; brutes believe sheerly in might; and 
human beings alone believe that might is right. Of the two, the 
chattering instinct, or the effort to find out who is right, is of course 
the nobler instinct. Someday we must all just chatter. That will 
be the salvation of mankind. At present, we must be content 
with the tea house method and tea house psychology. It doesn’t 
matter whether we setde an argument in a tea house or at the 
League of Nations; at both places, we are consistendy and char- 
acteristically human. 

I have witnessed two such tea house scenes, one in 1931-32 and 
one in 1936. And the most amusing thing is, there was an admixture 
of a third instinct, modesty, in these two squabbles. In the 1931 
affair, we were at the tea house and there was one party in dis- 
pute with another and we were supposed to be the jury in the 
matter. The charge was some sort of a theft or stealing of property. 
The fellow with the strong arm at first joined in the argument- 



made an address to justify himself, spoke of his infinite patience 
with his neighbor — what restraint, what magnanimity, what un- 
selfishness of motive in his desire to cultivate his neighbor’s garden! 
The funny thing was, he encouraged us to go on with our chatter 
while he stole outside the room and completed the stealing by 
staking up a fence around the stolen property, and then came in 
to ask us to go and see for ourselves if he wasn’t right. We all 
went, saw the new fence being steadily pushed farther and farther 
to the West, for even then the fence was being constantly shifted. 
“Now, then, am I right or wrong?” We returned the verdict of 
“You are wrong!” — a little impudent of us to have said that. There- 
upon the fellow with the strong arm protested that he was publicly 
insulted, that his sense of modesty was injured and his honor be- 
smirched. Angrily and proudly he walked out of the room, wiping 
the dust off his shoes with sneering contempt, thinking us not 
good company for him. Imagine a man like that feeling insulted! 
That is why I say the third instinct of modesty complicates the 
matter. Thereupon the tea house lost a good bit of its reputation 
as a place for scientific settling of private quarrels. 

Then in 1936 we were called upon to judge another dispute. 
Another fellow with a strong arm said he would lay the facts of 
the dispute before the table and ask for justice. I heard the word 
“justice” with a shudder. And we believed him — not without a 
premonition as to the awkwardness of the situation or our question- 
able capacity as a jury. Determined to justify our reputation as 
fair-minded and competent judges, we, almost to a man, told him 
to his face that he was wrong, that he was nothing but a bully. He, 
too, felt insulted; again his sense of modesty was injured and his 
honor was besmirched. Well, then, he took the opponent by the 
neck and went outside and killed him, and then he came back 
and asked us, “Now am I right or wrong?” And we echoed, “You 
are right!” with a profound bow. Still not satisfied, he asked us, 
“Am I good enough company for you now?” and we shouted like 
a regular tea house crowd, “Of course you are!” But what modesty 
on the part of the killer! 



That is human civilization in the year of Our Lord 1936. I think 
the evolution of law and justice must have passed through scenes 
like the above in its earliest dawn, when we were little better than 
savages. From that tea house scene to the Supreme Court of Justice, 
where the convicted does not protest that he is insulted by the con- 
viction, seems a long, long way of development. For some ten years, 
while we started the tea house, we thought we were on the road 
to civilization, but a wiser God, knowing human beings and our 
essential human traits, might have predicted the setback. He might 
have known how we must fail and falter at the beginning, being 
only half civilized as we are at present. For the present, the reputa- 
tion of the tea house is gone, and we are back to falling upon each 
other and tearing each other’s hair out and digging our teeth into 
each other’s flesh, in the true grand style of the jungle. . . . Still I 
am not in total despair. That thing called modesty or shame is after 
all a good thing, and the chattering instinct also. The way I look at 
it is we are quite devoid of real shame at present. But let us continue 
to pretend that we have a sense of shame, and continue to chatter. 
By chattering we shall one day attain the blessed state of the angels. 

VI. On Having a Mind 

The human mind, you say, is probably the noblest product of the 
Creation. This is a proposition that most people will admit, par- 
ticularly when it refers to a mind like Albert Einstein’s that can 
prove curved space by a long mathematical equation, or Edison’s 
that can invent the gramaphone and the motion picture, or the 
minds of other physicists who can measure the rays of an advancing 
or receding star or deal with the constitution of the unseen atoms, 
or that of the inventor of natural-color movie cameras. Compared 
with the aimless, shifting and fumbling curiosity of the monkeys, 
we must agree that we have a noble, a glorious intellect that can 
comprehend the universe in which we are born. 

The average mind, however, is charming rather than noble. Had 
the average mind been noble, we should be completely rational 



beings without sins or weaknesses or misconduct, and what an 
insipid world that would be! We should be so much less charming 
as creatures. I am such a humanist that saints without sins don’t 
interest me. But we are charming in our irrationality, our incon- 
sistencies, our follies, our sprees and holiday gaieties, our preju- 
dices, bigotry and forgetfulness. Had we all perfect brains, we 
shouldn’t have to make new resolutions every New Year. The 
beauty of the human life consists in the fact that, as we review 
on New Year’s Eve our last New Year resolutions, we find we 
have fulfilled a third of them, left unfulfilled another third, and 
can’t remember what the other third was. A plan that is sure to 
be carried out down to its last detail already loses interest for me. 
A general who goes to batde and is completely sure of his victory 
beforehand, and can even predict the exact number of casualties, 
will lose all interest in the battle, and might just as well throw 
up the whole thing. No one would play chess if he knew his oppo- 
nent’s mind — good, bad or indifferent — was infallible. All novels 
would be unreadable did we know exactly how the mind of each 
character was going to work and were we able consequently to 
predict the exact outcome. The reading of a novel is but the chase 
of a wayward and unpredictable mind making its incalculable de- 
cisions at certain moments, through a maze of evolving circum- 
stances. A stern, unforgiving father who does not at some moment 
relax ceases to impress us as human, and even a faithless husband 
who is forever faithless soon forfeits the reader’s interest. Imagine 
a renowned, proud composer, whom no one could induce to com- 
pose an opera for a certain beautiful woman, but who, on hearing 
that a hated rival composer is thinking of doing it, immediately 
snatches at the job; or a scientist who in his life has consistently 
refused to publish his writings in newspapers, but who, on seeing 
a rival scientist make a slip with one single letter, forgets his own 
rule and rushes into print. There we have laid our finger upon the 
singularly human quality of the mind. 

The human mind is charming in its unreasonableness, its invet- 
erate prejudices, and its waywardness and unpredictability. If we 


5 8 

haven’t learned this truth, we have learned nothing from the cen- 
tury of study of human psychology. In other words, our minds 
still retain the aimless, fumbling quality of simian intelligence. 

Consider the evolution of the human mind. Our mind was orig- 
inally an organ for sensing danger and preserving life. That this 
mind eventually came to appreciate logic and a correct mathemati- 
cal equation I consider a mere accident. Certainly it was not cre- 
ated for that purpose. It was created for sniffing food, and if after 
sniffing food, it can also sniff an abstract mathematical formula, 
that’s all to the good. My conception of the human brain, as of all 
animal brains, is that it is like an octopus or a starfish with tenta- 
cles, tentacles for feeling the truth and eating it. Today we still 
speak of “feeling” the truth, rather than “thinking” it. The brain, 
together with other sensory organs, constitutes the feelers. How its 
tentacles feel the truth is still as great a mystery in physics as the 
sensitivity to light of the purple in the eye’s retina. Every time the 
brain dissociates itself from the collaborating sensory apparatus and 
indulges in so-called “abstract thinking,” every time it gets away 
from what William James calls the perceptual reality and escapes 
into the world of conceptual reality, it becomes devitalized, dehu- 
manized and degenerate. We all labor under the misconception 
that the true function of the mind is thinking, a misconception that 
is bound to lead to serious mistakes in philosophy unless we revise 
our notion of the term “thinking” itself. It is a misconception that 
is apt to leave the philosopher disillusioned when he goes out of 
his studio and watches the crowd at the market. As if thinking 
had much to do with our everyday behavior! 

The late James Harvey Robinson has tried to show, in The Mind 
in the Maying, how our mind gradually evolved from, and is still 
operating upon, four underlying layers: the animal mind, the sav- 
age mind, the childish mind and the traditional civilized mind, 
and has further shown us the necessity of developing a more criti- 
cal mind if the present human civilization is to continue. In my 
scientific moments, I am inclined to agree with him, but in my 
wiser moments, I doubt the feasibility, or even the desirability, of 



such a step of general progress. I prefer to have our mind charm- 
ingly unreasonable as it is at present. I should hate to see a world 
in which we are all perfectly rational beings. Do I distrust scientific 
progress? No, I distrust sainthood. Am I anti-intellectualistic? Per- 
haps yes; perhaps no. I am merely in love with life, and being in 
love with life, I distrust the intellect profoundly. Imagine a world 
in which there are no stories of murder in newspapers, every one 
is so omniscient that no house ever catches fire, no airplane ever 
has an accident, no husband deserts his wife, no pastor elopes with 
a choir girl, no king abdicates his throne for love, no man changes 
his mind and everyone proceeds to carry out with logical precision 
a career that he mapped out for himself at the age of ten — good-by 
to this happy human world! All the excitement and uncertainty 
of life would be gone. There would be no literature because there 
would be no sin, no misbehavior, no human weakness, no upsetting 
passion, no prejudices, no irregularities and, worst of all, no sur- 
prises. It would be like a horse race in which every one of the forty 
or fifty thousand spectators knew the winner. Human fallibility is 
the very essence of the color of life, as the upsets are the very color 
and interest of a steeplechase. Imagine a Doctor Johnston without 
his bigoted prejudices! If we were all completely rational beings, 
we should then, instead of growing into perfect wisdom, degen- 
erate into automatons, the human mind serving merely to register 
certain impulses as unfailingly as a gas meter. That would be 
inhuman, and anything inhuman is bad. 

My readers may suspect that I am trying a desperate defense of 
human frailties and making virtues of their vices, and yet it is not 
so. What we gained in correctness of conduct through the develop- 
ment of a completely rational mind, we should lose in the fun and 
color of life. And nothing is so uninteresting as to spend one’s life 
with a paragon of virtue as a husband or wife. I have no doubt 
that a society of such perfectly rational beings would be perfectly 
fitted to survive, and yet I wonder whether survival on such terms 
is worth having. Have a society that is well-ordered, by all means 
— but not too well-ordered! I recall the ants, who, to my mind, 



are probably the most perfectly rational creatures on earth. No 
doubt ants have evolved such a perfect socialist state that they have 
been able to live on this pattern for probably the last million years. 
So far as complete rationality of conduct is concerned, I think we 
have to hand it to the ants, and let the human beings come second 
(I doubt very much whether they deserve that). The ants are a 
hard-working, sane, saving and thrifty lot. They are the socially 
regimented and individually disciplined beings that we are not. 
They don’t mind working fourteen hours a day for the state or 
the community; they have a sense of duty and almost no sense of 
rights; they have persistence, order, courtesy and courage, and 
above all, self-discipline. We are poor specimens of self-discipline, 
not even good enough for museum pieces. 

Run across any hall of honor, with statues of the great men of 
history lining the corridor, and you will perceive that rationality 
of conduct is probably the last thing to be recalled from their lives. 
This Julius Caesar, who fell in love with Cleopatra — noble Julius 
Caesar, who was so completely irrational that he almost forgot (as 
Anthony did entirely forget) an empire for a woman. That Moses, 
who in a fit of rage shattered the sacred stone tablets which had 
taken him forty days on Mount Sinai to inscribe in company with 
God, and in that he was no more rational than the Israelites who 
forsook God and took to worshiping the Golden Calf during his 
absence. That King David, who was alternately cruel and gener- 
ous, alternately religious and impious, who worshiped God and 
sinned and wrote psalms of repentance and worshiped God again. 
King Solomon, the very image of wisdom, who couldn’t do a thing 
about his son . . . Confucius, who told a visitor he was not at 
home and then, as the visitor was just outside the door, sang up- 
stairs in order to let him know that he was at home . . . Jesus, with 
his tears at Gethsemane and his doubts on the cross . . . Shake- 
speare, who bequeathed his “second-best bed” to his wife . . . Mil- 
ton, who couldn’t get along with his seventeen-year-old wife and 
therefore wrote a treatise on divorce and, being attacked, then burst 
forth into a defense of the liberty of speech in Areopagitica . . . 


Goethe, who went through the Church’s wedding ceremony with 
his wife, their nineteen-year-old son standing by their side . . . 
Jonathan Swift and Stella . . . Ibsen and Emilie Bardach (he kept 
rational — good for him) .... 

Is it not plain that passion rather than reason rules the world? 
And that what made these great men lovable, what made them 
human, was not their rationality, but their lack of rationality? 
Chinese obituary notices and biographical sketches of men and 
women written by their children are so unreadable, so uninterest- 
ing and so untrue, because they make all their ancestors appear 
abnormally and wholly virtuous beings. . . . The great criticism of 
my book on China by my countrymen is that I make the Chinese 
too human, that I have painted their weaknesses as well as their 
strength. My countrymen (at least the little bureaucrats) believe 
that if I had painted China as a paradise inhabited by Confucianist 
saints only, living in a millennium of peace and reason, I could 
have done more effective propaganda for my country! There is 
really no limit to the stupidity of bureaucrats. . . . But the very 
charm of biography, its very readability, depends on showing the 
human side of a great character which is so similar to ours. Every 
touch of irrational behavior in a biography is a stroke in convinc- 
ing reality. On that alone, the success of Lytton Strachey’s portraits 

An excellent illustration of a perfectly sound mind is provided 
by the English. The English have got bad logic, but very good 
tentacles in their brains for sensing danger and preserving life. I 
have not been able to discover anything logical in their national 
behavior or their rational history. Their universities, their constitu- 
tion, their Anglican Church are all pieces of patchwork, being the 
steady accretions of a process of historical growth. The very strength 
of the British Empire consists in the English lack of cerebration, in 
their total inability to see the other man’s point of view, and in 
their strong conviction that the English way is the only right way 
and English food is the only good food. The moment the English- 
men learn to reason and lose their strong confidence in themselves, 



the British Empire will collapse. For no one can go about conquer- 
ing the world if he has doubts about himself. You can make abso- 
lutely nothing out of the English attitude toward their king, their 
loyalty to, and their quite genuine affection for, a king who is 
deprived by them of the liberty of speech and is summarily told to 
behave or quit the throne. . . . When Elizabethan England needed 
pirates to protect the Empire, she was able to produce enough 
pirates to meet the situation and glorified them. In every period, 
England was able to fight the right war, against the right enemy, 
with the right ally, on the right side, at the right time, and call it 
by a wrong name. They didn’t do it by logic, did they? They did 
it by their tentacles. 

The English have a ruddy complexion, developed no doubt by 
the London fog and by cricket. A skin that is so healthy cannot 
but help playing an important part in their thinking, that is, in 
the process of feeling their way through life. And as the English 
think with their healthy skin, so the Chinese think with their pro- 
found intestines. That is a pretty generally established matter in 
China. We Chinese know that we do think with our intestines; 
scholars are said to have “a bellyful of ideas,” or “of scholarship,” 
“of poetry and literature,” or “a bellyful of sorrow,” or “of anger, ’ 
“remorse,” “chagrin,” or longing.” Chinese lovers separated from 
each other write letters to say that “their sorrowful intestines are tied 
into a hundred knots,” or that at their last parting “their intestines 
were broken.” Chinese scholars who have arranged their ideas for 
an essay or a speech, but have not written them down on paper, 
are said to have their “belly manuscript” ready. They have got their 
ideas all arranged down there. I’m quite sure they have. This is, of 
course, all stricdy scientific and capable of proof, especially when 
modern psychologists come to understand better the emotional qual- 
ity and texture of our thought. But the Chinese don’t need any 
scientific proof. They just feel it down there. Only by appreciating 
the fact that the emotional quality of Chinese melodies all starts 
from below the diaphragm of the singers, can one understand Chi- 
nese music with its profound emotional color. 


6 3 

One must never deprecate the capacity of the human mind when 
dealing with the natural universe or anything except human rela- 
tionships. Optimistic about the conquests of science, I am less hope- 
ful about the general development of a critical mind in dealing with 
human affairs, or about mankind reaching a calm and understand- 
ing far above the sway of passions. Mankind as individuals may have 
reached austere heights, but mankind as social groups are still 
subject to primitive passions, occasional back-slidings and outcrop- 
pings of the savage instincts, and occasional waves of fanaticism and 
mass hysteria. 

Knowing then our human frailties, we have the more reason to 
hate the despicable wretch who in demagogue fashion makes use 
of our human foibles to hound us into another world war; who 
inculcates hatred, of which we already have too much; who glorifies 
self-aggrandizement and self-interest, of which there is no lack; 
who appeals to our animal bigotry and racial prejudice; who deletes 
the fifth commandment in the training of youth and encourages 
killing and war as noble, as if we were not already warlike enough 
creatures; and who whips up and stirs our mortal passions, as if 
we were not already very near the beast. This wretch’s mind, no 
matter how cunning, how sagacious, how worldly-wise, is itself a 
manifestation of the beast. The gracious spirit of wisdom is tied 
down to a beast or a demon in us, which by this time we have 
come to understand is nothing but our animal heritage, or rather 
it ties this demon down by an old and worn leash and holds it 
but in temporary submission. At any time the leash may snap, and 
the demon be unleashed, and amidst hosannas the car of Jugger- 
naut will ride roughshod over us, just to remind us once more how 
terribly near the savage we have been all this time, and how super- 
ficial is our civilization. Civilization will then be turned into a 
magnificent stage, on which Moors will kill Christians and Chris- 
tians kill Moors and Negroes fall upon whites and whites stab 
Negroes and field mice emerge from sewers to eat human corpses 
and hawks circle in the air over an abundant human feast — all just 



to remind ourselves of the brotherhood of animals. Nature is quite 
capable of such experiments. 

Psychoanalyists often cure mental patients by making them re- 
view their past and see their life objectively. Perhaps if mankind 
will think more of their past, they will also have a better mastery 
over themselves. The knowledge that we have an animal heritage 
and that we are very near the beasts might help to check our be- 
having like beasts. This animal heritage of ours makes it easier to 
see ourselves as we are in animal fables and satires, as in Aesop’s 
Fables, Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowles, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels 
and Anatole France’s Penguin Island. These animal fables were 
good in Aesop’s day and will still be good in the year A. D. 4000. 

How can we remedy the situation ? The critical mind is too thin 
and cold, thinking itself will help little and reason will be of small 
avail; only the spirit of reasonableness, a sort of warm, glowing, emo- 
tional and intuitive thinking, joined with compassion, will insure us 
against a reversion to our ancestral type. Only the development of 
our life to bring it into harmony with our instincts can save us. 
I consider the education of our senses and our emotions rather 
more important than the education of our ideas. 

Chapter Four 


I. On Human Dignity 

IN the preceding chapter, we have seen man’s mortal heritage, the 
part he shares with the animal world, and its consequences on the 
character of human civilization. But still we find the picture is not 
complete. There is still something missing for a well-rounded view 
of human nature and human dignity. Ah, human dignity — that is 
the word! There is a need of emphasizing that and there is a need 
of knowing what that dignity consists of, lest we confuse the issue 
and lose it. For there is a very evident danger of our losing that 
dignity in the twentieth century and especially in the present and 
immediate following decades. 

“Don’t you think a man is the most amazing of animals, if you 
insist that we are animals?” I quite agree. Man alone has invented 
a civilization, and this is not something to be lightly dismissed. 
There are perhaps finer animals with better forms and nobler 
structures, like the horse; with finer muscles, like the lion; with a 
finer sense of smell and greater docility and loyalty, like the dog; 
or better vision, like the eagle; or a better sense of direction, like the 
homing pigeon; with greater thrift and discipline and capacity for 
hard work, like the ant; with a sweeter temper like the dove or the 
deer; more patience and contentment like the cow; better singers, 
like the lark; and better-dressed beings, like the parrot and the pea- 
cock. Still there is something in a monkey that makes me prefer 
the monkey to all these animals, and something of the monkey 
curiosity and monkey cleverness in man that makes me prefer to 
be a man. Granted that ants are more rational and better-disciplined 
beings than ourselves, as I have pointed out, and granted that they 
have a more stable form of government than present-day Spain, 
still they haven’t got a library or a museum, have they? Any time 
ants or elephants can invent a giant telescope or discover a new 
variable star or predict a solar eclipse, or seals can discover the 




science of calculus or beavers can cut the Panama Canal, I will 
hand them the championship as masters of the world and Lords 
of Creation. Yes, we can be proud of ourselves, but we had better 
find out what it is that we have got to be proud of, what is the es- 
sence of human dignity. 

This human dignity, as I have already hinted at the beginning 
of this book, consists of four characteristics of the scamp, who has 
been glorified by Chinese literature. They are: a playful curiosity, a 
capacity for dreams, a sense of humor to correct those dreams, and 
finally a certain waywardness and incalculability of behavior. To- 
gether they represent the Chinese version of the American doctrine 
of the individual. It is impossible to paint a more glowing portrait of 
the individualist than has been done for the scamp in Chinese litera- 
ture, and it is certainly no accident that Walt Whitman, the greatest 
literary champion of American individualism, is himself called the 
“Magnificent Idler.” 

II. On Playful Curiosity: The Rise of 
Human Civilization 

How did the human scamp begin his ascent to civilization? 
What were the first signs of promise in him, or of his developing 
intelligence? The answer is undoubtedly to be found in man’s 
playful curiosity, in his first efforts to fumble about with his hands 
and turn everything inside out to examine it, as a monkey in his 
idle moments turns the eyelid or the ear-lobe of a fellow-monkey, 
looking for lice or for nothing at all — just turning about for turning 
about’s sake. Go to the zoo and watch a pair of monkeys picking 
each other’s ears, and there you have the promise of an Isaac 
Newton or an Albert Einstein. 

This figure of the playful, fumbling activities of the exploring 
human hand is more than a figure. It is a scientific truth. The very 
basis of human civilization started with the emancipation of the 
hands consequent upon man’s assuming an erect stature and be- 
coming a biped. Such playful curiosity we see even in cats, the 


6 7 

moment their front paws are relieved from the duty of walking 
and supporting the body. It might have been quite as possible for a 
civilization to be developed from cats as well as from monkeys, ex- 
cept for the fact that in the case of the monkeys, the fingers were 
already well developed through the clasping of branches, whereas 
the cat’s paws were still paws — merely lumps of flesh and cartilage. 

Let me for a moment forget that I am not a qualified biologist 
and speculate about the rise of human civilization from this emanci- 
pation of the hands, because I have a few things to say here, which 
may or may not have been observed by others. The assumption of 
an erect stature and the consequent emancipation of the hand had 
extremely far-reaching results. It brought about the use of tools, 
the sense of modesty, the subjection of women, and in this con- 
nection probably also the development of language, and finally a 
prodigious increase in playful curiosity and the instinct of ex- 
ploration. It is pretty well known that human civilization began 
with the discovery of tools and that this came from the development 
of the human hands. When the big anthropoid ape descended 
pardally from the tree, probably because his body was too heavy, 
he had two roads to follow, either that of a baboon, going on all 
fours, or that of the orang-outang, learning to walk on its hind 
legs. Human ancestry could not possibly have come from the 
baboon, a quadruped (or quadrumanum), because the baboon’s 
front paws were too much occupied. On the other hand, with an 
erect posture more or less successfully acquired by the orang-outang, 
the hands acquired freedom, and how significant was this freedom 
for all civilization! By that time, the anthropoid ape certainly had 
learned already to pick fruit with his hands, instead of with his 
big jaws. It was but a simple step, when he took to living in a 
cave on a high cliff, to pick stones and pebbles and roll them down 
from the cliff on his enemies. That was the first tool man ever 
used. There we must picture a constant fumbling and manipulating 
activity of his hands, grasping at things for some purpose or for 
no purpose. There would be sharp flints or jagged pieces of rocks 
which through his aimless fumbling were accidently discovered to 



be more useful for killing than round pieces of stone. The mere 
act of turning things about, for instance, of looking at the back as 
well as the front of an ear-lobe, must have already increased his 
power for conceiving things in their totality and therefore also the 
number of images he carried in his brain, thus stimulating the 
growth of the frontal lobes of the brain. 

I believe the mystery of the origin of sexual modesty in man, 
which is totally absent in animals, is also due to this erect posture. 
For by this new posture, which Father Nature in his scheme of 
things probably never intended, certain posterior parts of the body 
at one stroke came to occupy the center of the body, and what 
was naturally behind came in front. Allied to this terrible new 
situation were other maladjustments chiefly affecting women, caus- 
ing frequent abortions and menstrual troubles. Anatomically, our 
muscles were designed and developed for the quadruped position. 
The mother pig, for instance, carries its litter of pig embryos logi- 
cally suspended from its horizontal spine, like wash hung on a 
line with its weight properly distributed. Asking the human preg- 
nant mother to stand erect is like tipping the wash line vertically 
and expecting the clothes to remain in position. Our peritoneal 
muscles are badly designed for that: if we were originally bipeds, 
such muscles should be nicely attached to the shoulder, and the 
whole thing would be a more pleasant job. Anybody with a knowl- 
edge of the anatomy of the human womb and ovaries should be 
surprised that they keep in position and function at all, and that 
there are not more dislocations and menstrual troubles. The whole 
mystery of menstruation has never yet been satisfactorily explained, 
but I am quite sure that, even granted that a periodical renewal 
of ova is necessary, we must admit that the function is carried out 
in a most inefficient, unnecessarily long and needlessly painful 
manner, and I have no doubt that this inefficiency is due to the 
biped position. 

This, then, led to the subjection of women and probably also to 
the development of human society with its present characteristics. 
I do not think that if the human mother could walk on all fours, 


6 9 

she would have been subjected by her husband at all. Two forces 
came into play simultaneously. On the one hand, men and women 
were already by that time idle, curious and playful creatures. The 
amorous instinct developed new expressions. Kissing was still not 
entirely pleasant, or wholly successful, as we can see it between two 
chimpanzees kissing each other with hard, clapping, protruding 
jaws. But the hand developed new, more sensitive and softer 
movements, the movements of patting, pawing, tickling and em- 
bracing, all as incidental results of chasing lice on each other’s 
body. I have no doubt that lyrical poetry would not have developed 
if our hairy human ancestors had had no lice on their bodies. This, 
then, must have helped considerably to develop the amorous in- 

On the other hand, the biped human pregnant mother was now 
for a considerably longer period subjected to a state of grievous 
helplessness. During the earlier period of imperfect adjustment to 
the erect position, I can see that it was even more difficult for 
the pregnant mother to carry her load and go about, especially be- 
fore the legs and heels were properly modified, and the pelvis was 
properly projected backwards to counter-balance the burden in 
front. At the earliest stages, the biped position was so awkward 
that a Pleistocene mother must have shamefacedly gone on all fours 
when nobody was looking, to relieve her aching spine. What with 
these inconveniences and other women’s troubles, the human mother 
began to use other tactics and play for love, thereby losing some 
of her spirit of independence. Good Lord, she had need of being 
patted and pawed during those times of confinement! The erect 
posture prolonged, too, the period of infancy by making it dif- 
ficult for the human baby to learn to walk. While the baby calf 
or baby elephant can trot about practically as soon as it is born, 
the human baby took two or three years to learn the job, and who 
was the most natural person to look after him except the mother? 1 

1 This parental care gradually became more and more lengthened in period, so that 
while a savage child of six or seven is practically independent, the child in civilization 
takes a quarter of a century to learn to make his living, and even then has to learn 
it all over again. 



Man then went off into a completely new path of development. 
Human society developed from the single fact that sex, in the broad- 
est sense of the word, began to color human daily life. The human 
female was more consciously and constantly a female than a female 
animal — the negress more than the tigress, and the countess more 
than the lioness. Specialization between men and women in the civi- 
lized sense began to develop, and the female, instead of the traditional 
male, began to decorate herself, probably by picking hair out of her 
face and her breast. It was all a matter of tactics for survival. We see 
these tactics clearly in animals. The tiger attacks, the tortoise hides, 
and the horse runs away — all for survival. Love or beauty and the 
gende cunning of womanhood had then a survival value. The 
man probably had a stronger arm, and there was no use fighting 
him; why not, therefore, bribe and flatter and please him? That is 
the very character of our civilization even today. Instead of learn- 
ing to repel and attack, woman learned to attract, and instead of 
trying to achieve her goal by force, she tried her best to achieve it 
by softer means. And after all, softness is civilization. I rather think 
therefore that human civilization began with woman rather than 
with man. 

And then I also cannot help but think that woman played a 
greater role than man in the development of chattering, which we 
call language today. The instinct for chatter is so deep in women 
that I firmly believe they must have helped to create human lan- 
guage in a more important manner than men. Early men, I 
imagine, were quite morose, silent creatures. I suppose human 
language began when the first male anthropoids were away from 
their cave dwellings hunting, and two women neighbors were dis- 
cussing before their caves whether William was a better fellow 
than Harold or Harold was a better fellow than William, and how 
Harold was disgustingly amorous last night, and how easily he 
could be offended. In some such form, human language must have 
begun. It cannot be otherwise. Of course the taking of food by hands, 
thus relieving the original double duty of the jaw in both taking 
and eating food, eventually made it possible also for the jaw 


7 1 

gradually to recede and diminish in size, and thus also helped 
toward the development of human language. 

But, as I have suggested, the most important consequence of this 
new posture was the emancipation of the hands for turning things 
about and examining them inside out, as symbolized in the pastime 
of chasing lice by monkeys. From this chasing of lice, the develop- 
ment of the spirit of free inquiry into knowledge had its start. To- 
day human progress still consists very largely in chasing after some 
form or other of lice that is bothering human society. An instinct 
for curiosity has been developed which compels the human mind 
to explore freely and playfully into all kinds of subjects and social 
diseases. This mental activity has nothing to do with seeking food; 
it is an exercise of the human spirit pure and simple. The monkeys 
do not chase after lice in order to eat them, but for the sheer fun 
of it. And this is the characteristic of all worthwhile human learn* 
ing and human scholarship, an interest in things in themselves 
and a playful, idle desire to know them as they are, and not because 
that knowledge directly or immediately helps in feeding our stom- 
ach. (If I contradict myself here as a Chinese, I am happy as a 
Chinese that I contradict myself.) This I regard as characteristically 
human and contributing very largely to human dignity. Knowl- 
edge, or the process of seeking knowledge, is a form of play; it is 
certainly so with all scientists and inventors who are worth any- 
thing and who truly accomplish worthwhile results. Good medical 
research doctors are more interested in microbes than in human 
beings, and astronomers will try to record or register the movements 
of a distant star hundreds of millions of miles away from us, al- 
though the star cannot possibly have any direct bearing on human 
life on this planet. Almost all animals, especially the young, have 
also the play instinct, but it is in man alone that playful curiosity 
has been developed to an important extent. 

It is for this reason that I hate censors and all agencies and forms 
of government that try to control our thought. I cannot but believe 
that such a censor or such a ruler is wilfully or unintentionally 
insulting human intelligence. If the liberty of thought is the highest 


7 2 

activity of the human mind, then the suppression of that liberty must 
be the most degrading to us as human beings. Euripides defined 
the slave as a man who has lost his liberty of thought or opinion. 
Every autocracy is a factory for turning out gorgeous Euripidean 
slaves. Don’t we have fine examples of them. East and West, in the 
twentieth century and at the very home of culture? Every auto- 
cratic government, no matter in what form, therefore, is intellectu- 
ally retrograde. We have seen it in the Middle Ages in general, 
and in the Spanish Inquisition in particular. Short-sighted politicians 
or clergymen may think that uniformity of belief and thought 
contributes toward peace and order, but historically the consequence 
is always depressing and degrading to the human character. Such 
autocrats must have a great contempt for the people in general 
when they do not confine themselves to ordering a nation’s external 
conduct, but proceed also to regiment the people’s inner thoughts 
and beliefs. They have a naive assurance that human minds will 
put up with this uniformity and that they will like or dislike a 
book or a concerto or a moving picture exacdy as the official propa- 
gandist or chief of publicity bureau tells them to. Every autocratic 
government has tried to confuse literature with propaganda, art 
with politics, anthropology with patriotism, and religion with wor- 
ship of the living ruler. 

It simply can’t be done, and if the controllers of thought go too 
far in running against human nature itself, they are thereby sowing 
the seeds of their downfall. As Mencius put it, “If the ruler con- 
siders the people as blades of grass, then the people will consider 
their ruler as a robber or enemy.” There is no greater robber in 
this world than he who robs us of our liberty of thought. Deprived 
of that, we might as well go down on all fours, call the whole biped 
experiment of walking on two legs a mistake, and revert to our 
earlier posture of at least some 30,000 years ago. In Mencian terms, 
therefore, the people will resent this robber as much as the latter 
despises the people, and exactly in the same proportion. The more 
the robber takes away, the more the people hate him. And as noth- 
ing is so precious and personal and intimate as our intellectual, 



moral or religious beliefs, no greater hatred can be aroused in us 
than by the man who deprives us of the right to believe what we 
believe. But such short-sighted stupidity is natural in an autocrat, 
because I believe such autocrats are always intellectually retrograde. 
And the resilience of human character and unconquerable liberty 
of the human conscience always spring back and hit the autocratic 
ruler with a vengeance. 

III. On Dreams 

Discontent, they say, is divine; I am quite sure anyway that dis- 
content is human. The monkey was the first morose animal, for I 
have never seen a truly sad face in animals except in the chimpan- 
zee. And I have often thought such a one a philosopher, because 
sadness and thoughtfulness are so akin. There is something in such 
a face which tells me that he is thinking. Cows don’t seem to think, 
at least they don’t seem to philosophize, because they look always 
so contented, and while elephants may store up a terrific anger, 
the eternal swinging of their trunks seems to take the place of 
thinking and banish all brooding discontent. Only a monkey can 
look thoroughly bored with life. Great indeed is the monkey! 

Perhaps after all philosophy began with the sense of boredom. 
Anyway it is characteristic of humans to have a sad, vague and 
wistful longing for an ideal. Living in a real world, man has yet 
the capacity and tendency to dream of another world. Probably the 
difference between man and the monkeys is that the monkeys are 
merely bored, while man has boredom plus imagination. All of us 
have the desire to get out of an old rut, and all of us wish to be 
something else, and all of us dream. The private dreams of being 
a corporal, the corporal dreams of being a captain, and the captain 
dreams of being a major or colonel. A colonel, if he is worth his 
salt, thinks nothing of being a colonel. In more graceful phrase- 
ology, he calls it merely an opportunity to serve his fellow men. 
And really there is very little else to it. The plain fact is, Joan 
Crawford thinks less of Joan Crawford and Janet Gaynor thinks 



less of Janet Gaynor than the world thinks of them. “Aren’t you 
remarkable?” the world says to all the great, and the great, if they 
are truly great, always reply, “What is remarkable?” The world is 
therefore pretty much like an a la carte restaurant where everybody 
thinks the food the next table has ordered is so much more inviting 
and delicious than his own. A contemporary Chinese professor has 
made the witticism that in the matter of desirability, “Wives are 
always better if they are others’, while writing is always better if it 
is one’s own.” In this sense, therefore, there is no one completely 
satisfied in this world. Everyone wants to be somebody so long as 
that somebody is not himself. 

This human trait is undoubtedly due to our power of imagi- 
nation and our capacity for dreaming. The greater the imaginative 
power of a man, the more perpetually he is dissatisfied. That is 
why an imaginative child is always a more difficult child; he is 
more often sad and morose like a monkey, than happy and c6n- 
tented like a cow. Also divorce must necessarily be more common 
among the idealists and the more imaginative people than among 
the unimaginative. The vision of a desirable ideal life companion 
has an irresistible force which the less imaginative and less idealistic 
never feel. On the whole, humanity is as much led astray as led 
upwards by this capacity for idealism, but human progress without 
this imaginative gift is itself unthinkable. 

Man, we are told, has aspirations. They are very laudable things 
to have, for aspirations are generally classified as noble. And why 
not? Whether as individuals or as nations, we all dream and act 
more or less in accordance with our dreams. Some dream a little 
more than others, as there is a child in every family who dreams 
more and perhaps one who dreams less. And I must confess to a 
secret partiality for the one who dreams. Generally he is the sadder 
one, but no matter; he is also capable of greater joys and thrills and 
heights of ecstasy. For I think we are constituted like a receiving 
set for ideas, as radio sets are equipped for receiving music from 
the air. Some sets with a finer response pick up the finer short 
waves which are lost to the other sets, and why, of course, that 



finer, more distant music is all the more precious if only because it 
is less easily perceivable. 

And those dreams of our childhood, they are not so unreal as 
we might think. Somehow they stay with us throughout our life. 
That is why, if I had my choice of being any one author in the 
world, I would be Hans Christian Andersen rather than anybody 
else. To write the story of The Mermaid, or to be the Mermaid our- 
selves, thinking the Mermaid’s thoughts and aspiring to be old 
enough to come up to the surface of the water, is to have felt one 
of the keenest and most beautiful delights that humanity is capa- 
ble of. 

And so, out in an alley, up in an attic, or down in the barn or 
lying along the waterside, a child always dreams, and the dreams 
are real. So Thomas Edison dreamed. So Robert Louis Stevenson 
dreamed. So Sir Walter Scott dreamed. All three dreamed in their 
childhood. And out of the stuff of such magic dreams are woven 
some of the finest and most beautiful fabrics we have ever seen. 
But these dreams are also partaken of by lesser children. The de- 
lights they get are as great, if the visions or contents of their 
dreams are different. Every child has a soul which yearns, and 
carries a longing on his lap and goes to sleep with it, hoping to 
find his dream come true when he wakes up with the morn. He 
tells no one of these dreams, for these dreams are his own, and 
for that reason they are a part of his innermost growing self. Some 
of these children’s dreams are clearer than others, and they have a 
force which compel their own realization; on the other hand, wkh 
growing age, those less clear dreams are forgotten, and we all live 
through life trying to tell those dreams of our childhood, and 
“sometimes we die ere we find the language.” 

And so with nations, too. Nations have their dreams and the 
memories of such dreams persist through generations and cen- 
turies. Some of these are noble dreams, and others wicked and 
ignoble. The dreams of conquest and of being bigger and stronger 
than all the others are always bad dreams, and such nations always 
have more to worry about than others who have more peaceful 



dreams. But there are other and better dreams, dreams of a better 
world, dreams of peace and of nations living at peace with one 
another, and dreams of less cruelty, injustice, and poverty and 
suffering. The bad dreams tend to destroy the good dreams of hu- 
manity, and there is a struggle and a fight between these good and 
bad dreams. People fight for their dreams as much as they fight 
for their earthly possessions. And so dreams descend from the world 
of idle visions and enter the world of reality, and become a real force 
in our life. However vague they are, dreams have a way of con- 
cealing themselves and leave us no peace until they are translated 
into reality, like seeds germinating under ground, sure to sprout 
in their search for the sunlight. Dreams are very real things. 

There is also a danger of our having confused dreams and dreams 
that do not correspond to reality. For dreams are escapes also, and 
a dreamer often dreams to escape from the present world, hardly 
knowing where. The Blue Bird always attracts the romanticist’s 
fancy. There is such a human desire to be different from what we 
are, to get out of the present ruts, that anything which offers a 
change always has a tremendous appeal to average humanity. A 
war is always attractive because it offers a city clerk the chance 
of donning a uniform and wearing puttees and a chance for travel 
gratis, while an armistice or peace is always desirable after three 
or four years in the trenches because it offers the soldier a chance 
to come back home and wear civilian dress and a scarlet necktie 
once more. Some such excitement humanity evidently needs, and 
if war is to be avoided, governments may just as well recruit people 
between twenty and forty-five under a conscript system and send 
them on European tours to see some exposition or other, once 
every ten years. The British Government is spending five billion 
pounds on its Rearmament Program, a sum sufficient to send every 
Englishman on a trip to the Riviera. The argument is, of course, 
that expenditures on war are a necessity while travel is a luxury. 
I feel inclined to disagree: travel is a necessity, while war is a luxury. 

There are other dreams too. Dreams of Utopia and dreams of 
immortality. The dream of immortality is entirely human — note 



its universality — although it is vague like the rest, and few people 
know what they are going to do when they find eternity hanging on 
their hands. After all, the desire for immortality is very much akin 
to the psychology of suicide, its exact opposite. Both presume that 
the present world is not good enough for us. Why is the present 
world not good enough for us? We should be more surprised at 
the question than at any answer to the question if we were out on a 
visit to the country on a spring day. 

And so with dreams of Utopia also. Idealism is merely that state 
of mind which believes in another world order, no matter what 
kind of an order, so long as it is different from the present one. 
The idealistic liberal is always one who thinks his own country 
the worst possible country and the society in which he lives the 
worst of all possible forms of society. He is still the fellow in the 
A la carte restaurant who believes that the next table’s order of 
dishes is better than his own. As the New Yor\ Times’ “Topics” 
writer says, only the Russian Dnieper Dam is a real dam in the 
eyes of these liberals and democracies have never built any dams. 
And of course only the Soviets have built a subway. On the other 
hand, the Fascist press tells their people that only in their country 
have mankind discovered the only sensible, right and working 
form of government. Therein lies the danger of Utopian liberals 
as well as of Fascist propaganda chiefs, and as a very necessary cor- 
rective, they can have nothing better than a sense of humor. 

IV. On the Sense of Humor 

I doubt whether the importance of humor has been fully ap- 
preciated, or the possibility of its use in changing the quality and 
character of our entire cultural life — the place of humor in politics, 
humor in scholarship, and humor in life. Because its function is 
chemical, rather than physical, it alters the basic texture of our 
thought and experience. Its importance in national life we can take 
for granted. The inability to laugh cost the former Kaiser Wilhelm 
an empire, or as an American might say, cost the German people 



billions of dollars. Wilhelm Hohenzollern probably could laugh in 
his private life, but he always looked so terribly impressive with 
his upturned mustache in public, as if he was always angry with 
somebody. And then the quality of his laughter and the things he 
laughed at — laughter at victory, at success, at getting on top of 
others — were just as important factors in determining his life for- 
tune. Germany lost the war because Wilhelm Hohenzollern did 
not know when to laugh, or what to laugh at. His dreams were 
not restrained by laughter. 

It seems to me the worst comment on dictatorships is that presi- 
dents of democracies can laugh, while dictators always look so 
serious — with a protruding jaw, a determined chin, and a pouched 
lower lip, as if they were doing something terribly important 
and the world could not be saved, except by them. Franklin D. 
Roosevelt often smiles in public — good for him, and good for the 
American people who like to see their president smile. But where 
are the smiles of the European dictators? Or don’t their people 
want to see them smile? Or must they indeed look either fright- 
ened, or dignified, or angry, or in any case look frightfully serious 
in order to keep themselves in the saddle? The best thing I have 
ever read about Hitler is that he is completely natural in private. 
It somehow restores my confidence in him. But something must be 
wrong with dictatorships, if dictators have to look either angry or 
else vainglorious. The whole temper is wrong. 

We are not indulging in idle fooling now, discussing the smiles 
of dictators; it is terribly serious when our rulers do not smile, be- 
cause they have got all the guns. On the other hand, the tremendous 
importance of humor in politics can be realized only when we pic- 
ture for ourselves (by that faculty for dreaming known as “D”) a 
world of joking rulers. Send, for instance, five or six of the world’s 
best humorists to an international conference, and give them the 
plenipotentiary powers of autocrats, and the world will be saved. As 
humor necessarily goes with good sense and the reasonable spirit, 
plus some exceptionally subtle powers of the mind in detecting in- 
consistencies and follies and bad logic, and as this is the highest form 



of human intelligence, we may be sure that each nation will thus be 
represented at the conference by its sanest and soundest mind. Let 
Shaw represent Ireland, Stephen Leacock represent Canada; G. K. 
Chesterton is dead, but P. G. Wodehouse or Aldous Huxley may 
represent England. Will Rogers is dead, otherwise he would make a 
fine diplomat representing the U. S.; we can have in his stead Robert 
Benchley or Heywood Broun. There will be others from Italy and 
France and Germany and Russia. Send these people to a conference 
on the eve of a great war, and see if they can start a European war, 
no matter how hard they try. Can you imagine this bunch of inter- 
national diplomats starting a war or even plotting for one? The sense 
of humor forbids it. All people are too serious and half-insane when 
they declare a war against another people. They are so sure that 
they are right and that God is on their side. The humorists, 
gifted with better horse-sense, don’t think so. You will find George 
Bernard Shaw shouting that Ireland is wrong, and a Berlin car- 
toonist protesting that the mistake is all theirs, and Heywood 
Broun claiming the largest share of bungling for America, while 
Stephen Leacock in the chair makes a general apology for mankind, 
gently reminding us that in the matter of stupidity and sheer 
foolishness no nation can claim itself to be the superior of others. 
How in the name of humor are we going to start a war under these 
conditions ? 

For who have started wars for us? The ambitious, the able, the 
clever, the scheming, the cautious, the sagacious, the haughty, the 
over-patriotic, the people inspired with the desire to “serve” man- 
kind, people who have a “career” to carve and an “impression” to 
make on the world, who expect and hope to look down the ages 
from the eyes of a bronze figure sitting on a bronze horse in some 
square. Curiously, the able, the clever, and the ambitious and 
haughty are at the same time the most cowardly and muddle- 
headed, lacking in the courage and depth and subtlety of the humor- 
ists. They are forever dealing with trivialities, while the humorists 
with their greater sweep of mind can envisage larger things. As it 
is, a diplomat who does not whisper in a low voice and look 



properly scared and intimidated and correct and cautious is no 
diplomat at all. . . . But we don’t even have to have a conference 
of international humorists to save the world. There is a sufficient 
stock of this desirable commodity called a sense of humor in all 
of us. When Europe seems to be on the brink of a catastrophic 
war, we may still send to the conferences our worst diplomats, the 
most “experienced” and self-assured, the most ambitious, the most 
whispering, most intimidated and correct and properly scared, 
even the most anxious to “serve” mankind. If it be required that, 
at the opening of every morning and afternoon session, ten minutes 
be devoted to the showing of a Mickey Mouse picture, at which all 
the diplomats are compelled to be present, any war can still be 

This I conceive to be the chemical function of humor: to change 
the character of our thought. I rather think that it goes to the very 
root of culture, and opens a way to the coming of the Reasonable 
Age in the future human world. For humanity I can visualize no 
greater ideal than that of the Reasonable Age. For that after all is 
the only important thing, the arrival of a race of men imbued 
with a greater reasonable spirit, with greater prevalence of good 
sense, simple thinking, a peaceable temper and a cultured out- 
look. The ideal world for mankind will not be a rational world, 
nor a perfect world in any sense, but a world in which imper- 
fections are readily perceived and quarrels reasonably settled. For 
mankind, that is frankly the best we can hope for and the noblest 
dream that we can reasonably expect to come true. This seems to 
imply several things: a simplicity of thinking, a gaiety in philosophy 
and a subtle common sense, which will make this reasonable cul- 
ture possible. Now it happens that subde common sense, gaiety of 
philosophy and simplicity of thinking are characteristic of humor 
and must arise from it. 

It is difficult to imagine this kind of a new world because our 
present world is so different. On the whole, our life is too complex, 
our scholarship too serious, our philosophy too somber, and our 
thoughts too involved. This seriousness and this involved complexity 


of our thought and scholarship make the present world such an un- 
happy one today. 

Now it must be taken for granted that simplicity of life and 
thought is the highest and sanest ideal for civilization and culture, 
that when a civilization loses simplicity and the sophisticated do 
not return to unsophistication, civilization becomes increasingly 
full of troubles and degenerates. Man then becomes the slave of 
the ideas, thoughts, ambitions and social systems that are his own 
product. Mankind, overburdened with this load of ideas and am- 
bitions and social systems, seems unable to rise above them. Luck- 
ily, however, there is a power of the human mind which can 
transcend all these ideas, thoughts and ambitions and treat them 
with a smile, and this power is the subtlety of the humorist. Hu- 
morists handle thoughts and ideas as golf or billiard champions 
handle their balls, or as cowboy champions handle their lariats. 
There is an ease, a sureness, a lightness of touch, that comes from 
mastery. After all, only he who handles his ideas lighdy is master 
of his ideas, and only he who is master of his ideas is not enslaved 
by them. Seriousness, after all, is only a sign of effort, and effort is 
a sign of imperfect mastery. A serious writer is awkward and ill 
at ease in the realm of ideas as a nouveau riche is awkward, ill at 
ease and self-conscious in society. He is serious because he has not 
come to feel at home with his ideas. 

Simplicity, then, paradoxically is the outward sign and symbol 
of depth of thought. It seems to me simplicity is about the most 
difficult thing to achieve in scholarship and writing. How difficult 
is clarity of thought, and yet it is only as thought becomes clear 
that simplicity is possible. When we see a writer belaboring an 
idea we may be sure that the idea is belaboring him. This is proved 
by the general fact that the lectures of a young college assistant 
instructor, freshly graduated with high honors, are generally ab- 
struse and involved, and true simplicity of thought and ease of 
expression are to be found only in the words of the older professors. 
When a young professor does not talk in pedantic language, he 
is then positively brilliant, and much may be expected of him. 

8 2 


What is involved in the progress from technicality to simplicity, 
from the specialist to the thinker, is essentially a process of digestion 
of knowledge, a process that I compare strictly to metabolism. No 
learned scholar can present to us his specialized knowledge in 
simple human terms until he has digested that knowledge him- 
self and brought it into relation with his observations of life. Be- 
tween the hours of his arduous pursuit of knowledge (let us say 
the psychological knowledge of William James), I feel there is 
many a “pause that refreshes,” like a cool drink after a long fati- 
guing journey. In that pause many a truly human specialist will 
ask himself the all important question, “What on earth am I 
talking about?” Simplicity presupposes digestion and also maturity: 
as we grow older, our thoughts become clearer, insignificant and 
perhaps false aspects of a question are lopped off and cease to 
disturb us, ideas take on more definite shapes and long trains of 
thought gradually shape themselves into a convenient formula 
which suggests itself to us one fine morning, and we arrive at that 
true luminosity of knowledge which is called wisdom. There is 
no longer a sense of effort, and truth becomes simple to understand 
because it becomes clear, and the reader gets that supreme pleasure 
of feeling that truth itself is simple and its formulation natural. 
This naturalness of thought and style, which is so much admired 
by Chinese poets and critics, is often spoken of as a process of 
gradually maturing development. As we speak of the growing 
maturity of Su Tungp’o’s prose, we say that he has “gradually ap- 
proached naturalness” — a style that has shed off its youthful love 
of pomposity, pedantry, virtuosity and literary showmanship. 

Now it is natural that the sense of humor nourishes this simplicity 
of thinking. Generally, a humorist keeps closer touch with facts, 
while a theorist dwells more on ideas, and it is only when one is 
dealing with ideas in themselves that his thoughts get incredibly 
complex. The humorist, on the other hand, indulges in flashes of 
common sense or wit, which show up the contradictions of our ideas 
with reality with lightning speed, thus greatly simplifying matters. 
Constant contact with reality gives the humorist a bounce, and also 



a lightness and subtlety. All forms of pose, sham, learned nonsense, 
academic stupidity and social humbug are politely but effectively 
shown the door. Man becomes wise because man becomes subtle and 
witty. All is simple. All is clear. It is for this reason that I believe a 
sane and reasonable spirit, characterized by simplicity of living and 
thinking, can be achieved only when there is a very much greater 
prevalence of humorous thinking. 

V. On Being Wayward and Incalculable 

It seems that today the scamp is being displaced by the soldier 
as the highest ideal of a human being. Instead of wayward, incalcu- 
lable, unpredictable free individuals, we are going to have ration- 
alized, disciplined, regimented and uniformed, patriotic coolies, so 
efficiently controlled and organized that a nation of fifty or sixty 
millions can believe in the same creed, think the same thoughts 
and like the same food. Clearly two opposite views of human dig- 
nity are possible: the one regarding the scamp, and the other 
regarding the soldier, as the ideal; the one believing that a person 
who retains his freedom and individuality is the noblest type, and 
the other believing that a person who has completely lost inde- 
pendent judgment and surrendered all rights to private beliefs and 
opinions to the ruler or the state is the best and noblest being. 
Both views are defensible, one by common sense, and the other by 
logic. It should not be difficult to defend by logic the ideal of the 
patriotic automaton as a model citizen, useful as a means to serve 
another external goal, which is the strength of the state, which 
exists again for another goal, the crushing of other states. All that 
can be easily demonstrated by logic — a logic so simple and naive 
that all idiots fall for it. Incredible as it may seem, such a view has 
been upheld and is still being upheld in many “civilized” and “en- 
lightened” European countries. The ideal citizen is the soldier who 
thought he was being transported to Ethiopia and found himself in 
Guadalajara. Among such ideal citizens two classes, “A” and “B,” 
may again be distinguished. The “A” class, consisting of the better 



citizens from the point of view of the state or its ruler, are those who, 
on discovering that they have been landed in Spain, are still extremely 
sweet and amiable and offer up thanks to God directly or through 
the army chaplain for sending them, by a kind of providential 
miracle, to the thick of the battle to die for the state. Class “B” 
would be those insufficiently civilized beings who feel an inner 
resentment at the discovery. Now for myself, that inner resentment, 
that human recalcitrancy, is the only sign of human dignity, the 
only spark of hope illuminating for me the otherwise somber and 
dismal picture, the only hope for a restoration of human decency 
in some future more civilized world. 

It is clear then that, in spite of all logic, I am still for the scamp. 
I am all for the scamp, or the tramp, and for “Mary, Mary, quite 
contrary.” Our contrary-mindedness is our only hope for civilization. 
My reason is simple: that we are descended from the monkeys and 
not from the cows, and that therefore we are better monkeys, nobler 
monkeys, for being contrary-minded. I am selfish enough as a 
human being to desire a sweet and contented temper for the cows, 
who can be led to the pasture or to the slaughter-house at human 
behest with equal magnanimity and nobility of mind, motivated by 
the sole desire to sacrifice themselves for their master. At the same 
time, I am such a lover of humanity as not to desire that we become 
cows ourselves. The moment cows rebel and feel our recalcitrancy, 
or begin to act waywardly and less mechanically, I call them human. 
The reason I think all dictatorships are wrong is a biological reason. 
Dictators and cows go well together, but dictators and monkeys 

In fact, my respect for Western civilization has been considerably 
lowered since the nineteen-twenties. I had been ashamed of Chinese 
civilization, and I had honored the West, for I regarded it as a stain 
upon Chinese civilization that we had not developed a constitution 
and the idea of civil rights, and I decidedly thought that a constitu- 
tional government, republican or monarchical, was an advance in 
human culture. Now in the very home of Western civilization, I 
have the pleasure and satisfaction of seeing that human rights and 



individual liberty, even the common sense rights of individual free- 
dom of belief that we in China enjoy and have always enjoyed, can 
be trampled upon, that a constitutional government is no longer 
thought of as the highest form of government, that there are more 
Euripidean slaves in central Europe than in feudalistic China, and 
that some Western nations have more logic and less common sense 
than we Chinese. What more easy than for me to play the trump 
card from my sleeve by producing the Chinese ideal of the happy-go- 
lucky, carefree scamp, tramp and vagabond, which is the highest 
cultural ideal of a human being according to the Chinese concep- 
tion? Has the West a trump card to match, something to show that 
its doctrine of individual liberty and civil rights is a serious and 
deep-rooted belief or instinct, with enough vitality to stage a come- 
back and swing the pendulum of thought in the other direction, 
after the present fashion for glorified, uniformed coolies is gone? I 
am waiting to see it. 

It is easy to see how the European tradition of individual liberty 
and freedom has been forgotten, and why the pendulum is swinging 
in the wrong direction today. The reasons are two: first, the conse- 
quences of the present economic movement toward collectivism, 
and second, a heritage from the mechanistic outlook of mid- 
Victorian times. It seems that in the present age of rising collectiv- 
ism of all sorts — social, economic and political — mankind is naturally 
forgetting and forfeiting its right to human recalcitrancy and losing 
sight of the dignity of the individual. With the predominance of eco- 
nomic problems and economic thinking, which is overshadowing 
all other forms of human thinking, we remain completely ignorant 
of, and indifferent to, a more humanized knowledge and a more 
humanized philosophy, a philosophy that deals with the problems 
of the individual life. This is natural. As a man who has an ulcered 
stomach spends all his thought on his stomach, so a society with a 
sick and aching economics is forever preoccupied with thoughts of 
economics. Nevertheless, the result is that we remain totally indiffer- 
ent to the individual and have almost forgotten that he exists. A 
man used to be a man for a’ that. Today he is generally conceived 



as an automaton blindly obeying material or economic laws. We 
no longer think of a man as a man, but as a cog in a wheel, a mem- 
ber of a union or a class, an alien to be imported by quotas, a petit 
bourgeois to be referred to with contempt, or a capitalist to be de- 
nounced, or a worker to be regarded as a comrade because he is a 
worker. It seems that to label a man as a petit bourgeois or a 
“capitalist” or a “worker” is already to understand him completely, 
and he can be conveniently hated or hailed as a comrade accord- 
ingly. We are no longer individuals, no longer men, but only classes. 
May I suggest that this is an over-simplification of things? The 
scamp has completely disappeared as an ideal, and so has the man 
with his gloriously scamp-like qualities of reacting freely and incal- 
culably to his external surroundings. Instead of men, we have mem- 
bers of a class; instead of ideas and personal prejudices and 
idiosyncracies, we have ideologies, or class thoughts; instead of per- 
sonalities, we have blind forces; and instead of individuals, we have 
a Marxian dialectic controlling and foreshadowing all human activi- 
ties with unfailing precision. We are all progressing happily and 
enthusiastically toward the model of the ants. 

Of course I realize that I am talking nothing but old-fashioned 
democratic individualism. But may I also remind the Marxists that 
Karl Marx was himself a product of the Hegelian logic of a century 
ago and of the English classical school of economics of the mid-Vic- 
torian period? And nothing is so old-fashioned today as Hegelian 
logic or the mid-Victorian precision school of economic thought — 
nothing so unconvincing and untrue and so totally devoid of com- 
mon sense, from the Chinese humanist point of view. But we can 
understand how this mechanistic view of man came about at a time 
when mechanistic science was proud of its achievements and its 
conquests over nature. This science was pilfered, its mechanistic 
logic transferred to apply to human society, and the always imposing 
name of “natural laws” was very much sought after by the students 
of human affairs. Hence the prevalent theory that the surroundings 
are greater than the man and that human personalities can be almost 
reduced to equations. That may be good economics, but bad biology. 



Good biology recognizes the individual’s power of reaction as just 
as important a factor in the development of life as the physical 
environment, as any wise doctor will admit that the patient’s tem- 
perament and individual reactions are an all-important factor in the 
fight against a disease. Medical doctors today recognize more and 
more the incalculable factor of the individual. Many patients, who 
by all logic and precedents ought to die, simply refuse to do so and 
shock the doctor by their recovery. A doctor who prescribes an 
identical treatment for an identical disease in two individuals and 
expects an identical development may be properly classified as a 
social menace. No less a social menace are the social philosophers 
who forget the individual, his capacity for reacting in a different 
manner from others, and his generally wayward and incalculable 

Perhaps I don’t understand economics, but economics does not 
understand me, either. That is why economics is still floundering 
today and hardly dares pop up its head as a science. The sad thing 
about economics is that it is no science, if it stops at commodities 
and does not go beyond to human motives, and if it does go 
beyond to human motives, it is still no science, or at best a 
pseudo-science, if it tries to reach human motives by statistical 
averages. It hasn’t developed even a technique suitable to the 
examination of the human mind, and if it carries over to the realm 
of human activities its mathematical approach and its love of draw- 
ing statistical averages, it stands in still greater danger of flounder- 
ing in ignorance. That is why every time an important economic 
measure is about to be adopted, two economic experts or authorities 
will come out exactly on opposite sides. Economics after all goes 
back to the idiosyncrasies of the human mind, and of these idiosyn- 
crasies the experts have no ghost of an idea. One believed that, 
should England go off the gold standard, there would be a catas- 
trophe, while another believed, with equal cocksureness, that Eng- 
land’s going off the gold standard would be the only salvation. 
When people begin to buy and when people begin to sell are prob- 
lems that the best experts cannot reasonably foretell. It is entirely 



due to this fact that speculations on the stock exchange are possible. 
It remains true that the stock exchange cannot, with the best assem- 
blage of world economic data, scientifically, predict the rise and fall 
of gold or silver or commodities, as the weather bureau can forecast 
the weather. The reason clearly lies in the fact that there is a human 
element in it, that when too many people are selling out, some will 
start buying in, and when too many people are buying in, a few 
people will start selling out. Thus is introduced the element of 
human resilience and human uncertainty. It is to be presumed, of 
course, that every person who is selling out regards as a fool the 
other person who is buying in what he is selling out, and vice versa. 
Who are the fools only future events can prove. This is merely an 
illustration of the incalculablcness and waywardness of human be- 
havior, which is true not only in the hard and matter-of-fact dealings 
of business, but also in the shaping of the course of history by 
human psychology, and in all human reactions toward morals, 
customs, and social reforms. 

VI. The Doctrine of the Individual 

Man today may be living in a democratic country to a greater or 
lesser extent threatened by great social changes, or he may be living 
in a communist country tending more and more to approach and 
come back to the democratic ideal, or he may be living under a 
dictatorship which may survive him or which more probably he 
will survive. In any case, his individual life remains an integrated 
whole, shaped by the currents of the times, but still retaining its 

Philosophy not only begins with the individual, but also ends 
with the individual. For an individual is the final fact of life. He is 
an end in himself, and not a means to other creations of the human 
mind. The greatest empire of the world, like the British Empire, 
exists in order that an Englishman in Sussex may live a fairly happy 
and reasonable life; a false philosophy would assume that the Eng- 
lishman in Sussex lives in order that there may be the great British 



Empire. The best social philosophies do not claim any greater 
objective than that the individual human beings living under 
such a regime shall have happy individual lives. If there are social 
philosophies which deny the happiness of the individual life as the 
final goal and aim of civilization, those philosophies are the product 
of a sick and unbalanced mind. 

As far as culture is concerned, I am inclined to think that the 
final judgment of any particular type of culture is what type of men 
and women it turns out. It is in this sense that Walt Whitman, one 
of the wisest and most far-seeing of Americans, struggles in his essay 
Democratic Vistas to bring forth the principle of individuality or 
“personalism,” as the end of all civilization: 

And, if we think of it, what does civilization itself rest upon 
— and what object has it, with its religions, arts, schools, etc., 
but rich, luxuriant, varied personalism? To that all bends; and 
it is because toward such result democracy alone, on anything 
like Nature’s scale, breaks up the limitless fallows of human- 
kind, and plants the seed, and gives fair play, that its claims 
now precede the rest. The literature, songs, esthetics, etc., of a 
country are of importance principally because they furnish the 
materials and suggestions of personality for the women and 
men of that country, and enforce them in a thousand effective 

Speaking of the individuality as a final fact, Whitman says: 

There is, in sanest hours, a consciousness, a thought that rises, 
independent, lifted out from all else, calm, like the stars, shin- 
ing eternal. This is the thought of identity — yours for you, who- 
ever you are, as mine for me. Miracle of miracles, beyond 
statement, most spiritual and vaguest of earth’s dreams, yet 
hardest basic fact, and only entrance to all facts. In such devout 
hours, in the midst of the significant wonders of heaven and 
earth, (significant only because of the Me in the centre), creeds, 
conventions, fall away and become of no account before this 
simple idea. Under the luminousness of real vision, it alone 
takes possession, takes value. Like the shadowy dwarf in the 
fable, once liberated and look’d upon, it expands over the whole 
earth, and spreads to the roof of heaven. 


9 ° 

The temptation is strong to quote more from this typically Ameri- 
can philosopher’s most eloquent glorification of the individual, 
summed up in the following manner: 

.... and, as an eventual conclusion and summing up (or 
else the entire scheme of things is aimless, a cheat, a crash), the 
simple idea that the last, best dependence is to be upon human- 
ity itself, and its own inherent, normal, full-grown qualities, 
without any superstitious support whatever. 

The purpose of democracy ... is, through many transmigra- 
tions, and amid endless ridicules, arguments and ostensible 
failures, to illustrate, at all hazards, this doctrine or theory that 
man, properly train’d in sanest, highest freedom, may and must 
become a law, and series of laws, unto himself 

After all, it is not our surroundings, but our reactions toward 
them that count. France, Germany, England and America are all 
living in the same machine civilization, yet their patterns and flavors 
of life are all different, and all solve their political problems in dif- 
ferent ways. It is foolish to assume that man must be swamped by 
the machine in a uniform, helpless manner, when we realize there 
is such room for variety of life, when we see that two drivers on 
the same truck will take a joke differently. A father of two sons who 
gives them the same education and the same start in life, will see 
how they gradually shape their lives according to the inner laws 
of their own being. Even if both turn out to be presidents of banks 
with exactly the same capitalization, yet in all things that matter, in 
all things that make for happiness, they are different, different in 
their address, accent and temperament; in their policies and ways of 
handling problems; in the way they get on with their staff, whether 
they are feared or loved, harsh and exacting or pleasant and easy- 
going; in the way they save and spend their money; and different in 
their personal lives as colored by their hobbies, their friends, their 
clubs, their reading and their wives. Such is the rich variety possible 
in identical surroundings that no one can take up the obituary page 
of a newspaper, without wondering how persons living in the same 
generation and dying on the same day have led entirely different 



lives, how some plodded on in a chosen vocation with a singular 
devotion and found happiness in it, how others had a checkered and 
varied career, how some invented, some explored, some cracked 
jokes, some were morose and without a sense of humor, some sky- 
rocketed to fame and wealth and died in the cold, dark cinders of 
the rocket, and some sold ice and coal and were stabbed to death in 
their cellar homes with a hoard of twenty thousand dollars in gold. 
Yes, human life is wondrous strange still, even in an industrial age. 
So long as man is man, variety will still be the flavor of life. 

There is no such thing as determinism in human affairs, whether 
politics or social revolution. The human factor is what upsets the cal- 
culations of the propounders of new theories and systems, and what 
defeats the originators of laws, institutions and social panaceas, 
whether it be the Oneida Community, or the American Federation 
of Labor, or Judge Lindsay’s companionate marriage. The quality of 
the bride and bridegroom is more important than the conventions 
of marriage and divorce, and the men administering or upholding 
the laws are more important than the laws themselves. 

But the importance of the individual comes not only from the 
fact that the individual life is the end of all civilization, but also 
from the fact that the improvement of our social and political life 
and international relationships comes from the aggregate action 
and temper of the individuals which compose a nation and is eventu- 
ally based on the temper and quality of the individual. In national 
politics and the evolution of a country from one stage to an- 
other, the determining factor is the temperament of the people. 
For above the laws of industrial development, there is the more 
important factor of a nadon’s way of doing things and solving 
problems. Rousseau as little foresaw the course of the French Revo- 
lution and the appearance of Napoleon, as Karl Marx foresaw 
the actual development of his socialistic theories and the appearance 
of Stalin. The course of the French Revolution was not determined 
by the slogan of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, but by certain traits 
in human nature in general and in the French temperament in 
particular. Karl Marx’s predictions about the course of the socialist 


9 2 

revolution have failed miserably, despite his rigorous dialectic. By 
all the laws of logic, as he predicted, a revolution of the proletariat 
should have come where the industrial civilization was most ad- 
vanced and where there was a strong class of proletarian workers — 
first in England, perhaps in the United States and possibly in 
Germany. Instead, Communism had first a chance to be put on trial 
in an agricultural country like Russia where there was no important 
proletarian class at all. What Karl Marx forgot to calculate was the 
human factor in England and in the United States and the English- 
man’s or American’s way of doing things and of solving problems. 
The great omission in all immature economics is the neglect to pro- 
vide for a je ne sais quoi factor in national affairs. The English dis- 
trust of theories and slogans, the Englishman’s way of slowly 
bungling, if necessary, but in any case slowly finding his way, the 
Anglo-Saxon’s love of individual liberty, self-respect, good sense 
and love of order, are things which are more powerful in shaping 
the course of events in England and America than all the logic of 
the German dialectician. 

And so the conduct of a nation’s affairs and the course of its social 
and political development are eventually based on the ideas which 
govern the individuals. This racial temperament, the thing we ab- 
stractly call “the genius of the people,” is after all an aggregate of 
the individuals who comprise that nation, for it is nothing but the 
character of a nation in action, as it faces certain problems or crises. 
There is nothing more false than the notion that this “genius” is a 
mythological entity like the “soul” in medieval theology, as if it 
were something more than a figure of speech. The genius of a nation 
is nothing but the character of its conduct and its way of doing 
things. So far from being an abstract entity with an independent 
existence of its own, as we sometimes think of the “destiny” of a 
nation, this genius can be seen only in action; it is a matter of choice, 
of certain selections and rejections, preferences and prejudices, which 
determine the nation’s final course of action in a given crisis or 
situation. Historians of the old school would like to think with 
Hegel that the history of a nation is but the development of an idea, 



proceeding by a kind of mechanical necessity, whereas a more subde 
and realistic view of history is that it was very largely a matter of 
chance. At every critical period, the nation made a choice, and in 
the choice we see a struggle of opposing forces and conflicting pas- 
sions, and a little more of this kind of sentiment or a little less of 
that kind might have tipped the scale in the other direction. The 
so-called genius of a nation, as expressed in such a given crisis, was 
a decision by the nation that they would like to have a little more 
of one thing, or had had enough of it. For after all every nation 
went ahead with what it liked, or what appealed to its sentiments, 
and rejected what it would not tolerate. Such a choice was based on 
a current of ideas and a set of moral sentiments and social 

In the last constitutional crisis of England, eventually compelling 
the abdication of a king, we see most clearly this thing called the 
character of a people in action, revealed by its approvals and disap- 
provals, its tide of changing emotions, in a conflict among many 
working motives of assumed validity. Such motives were personal 
loyalty to a popular prince, the Church of England’s prejudice 
against a divorcee, the Englishman’s traditional conception of a 
king, the question whether a king’s private affair was or could be a 
private affair, and whether a king should be more than a figurehead, 
or whether he should have definite Laborite sympathies. A little 
more of any one of these conflicting sentiments might have brought 
about a different solution of the crisis. 

And so throughout current history, whether Zenoviev, Kamenev 
and Piatakoff might have been killed and Radek imprisoned, 
whether “counter-revolutionary” plots and rebellion against the 
Stalin regime might or might not be so extensive, whether the 
German Catholic and Protestant churches might or might not hold 
their integrity in their resistance against the Nazi regime (that is, 
how much human resilience there is in Germany), whether Eng- 
land might turn truly Laborite, and whether the American Com- 
munist party might grow or lose in public favor, are things which 
eventually are determined by the ideas, sentiments and character 


of the individual members of the states concerned. In all this mov- 
ing panorama of human history, I see only flux and change, 
determined by man’s own wayward and incalculable and unpredic- 
table choice. 

In this sense, Confucianism connected the question of world peace 
with the cultivation of our personal lives. The very first lesson that 
Confucian scholars since the Sung Dynasty have decided should be 
learned by the child at school contains this passage: 

The ancient people who desired to have a clear moral har- 
mony in the world would first order their national life; those 
who desired to order their national life would first regulate their 
home life; those who desired to regulate their home life would 
first cultivate their personal lives; those who desired to culti- 
vate their personal lives would first set their hearts right; those 
who desired to set their hearts right, would first make their 
wills sincere; those who desired to make their wills sincere 
would first arrive at understanding; understanding comes from 
the exploration of knowledge of things. When the knowledge 
of things is gained, then understanding is reached; when under- 
standing is reached, then the will is sincere; when the will is sin- 
cere, then the heart is set right; when the heart is set right, then 
the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is culti- 
vated, then the home life is regulated; when the home life is 
regulated, then the national life is orderly; and when the 
national life is orderly; then the world is at peace. From the 
Emperor down to the common man, the cultivation of the per- 
sonal life is the foundation for all. It is impossible that when 
the foundation is disorderly, the superstructure can be orderly. 
There has never been a tree whose trunk is slender and whose 
top branches are heavy and strong. There is a cause and a se- 
quence in things, and a beginning and end in human affairs. 
To know the order of precedence is to have the beginning of 

Chapter Five 


I. Find Thyself: Chuangtse 

IN modern life, a philosopher is about the most honored and most 
unnoticed person in the world, if indeed such a person exists. “Phi- 
losopher” has become merely a term of social compliment. Anyone 
who is abstruse and unintelligible is called “a philosopher.” Any- 
one who is unconcerned with the present is also called “a philoso- 
pher.” And yet there is some truth in the latter meaning. When 
Shakespeare made Touchstone say in As You Li\e It, “Hast any 
philosophy in thee, shepherd?” he was using it in the second mean- 
ing. In this sense, philosophy is but a common, rough and ready 
outlook on things or on life in general, and every person has more 
or less of it. Anyone who refuses to take the entire panorama of real- 
ity on its surface value, or refuses to believe every word that appears 
in a newspaper, is more or less a philosopher. He is the fellow who 
refuses to be taken in. 

There is always a flavor of disenchantment about philosophy. The 
philosopher looks at life as an artist looks at a landscape — through 
a veil or a haze. The raw details of reality are softened a little to 
permit us to see its meaning. At least that is what a Chinese artist 
or a Chinese philosopher thinks. The philosopher is therefore the 
direct opposite of the complete realist who, busily occupied in his 
daily business, believes that his successes and failures, his losses and 
gains, are absolute and real. There is nothing to be done about such 
a person because he does not even doubt and there is nothing in him 
to start with. Confucius said: “If a person does not say to himself 
‘What to do? What to do?’ indeed I do not know what to do with 
such a person!” — one of the few conscious witticisms I have found 
in Confucius. 

I hope to present in this chapter some opinions of Chinese phi- 
losophers on a design for living. The more these philosophers 
differ, the more they agree — that man must be wise and un- 



afraid to live a happy life. The more positive Mencian oudook and 
the more roguishly pacifist Laotsean outlook merge together in the 
Philosophy of the Half-and-Half, which Imay describe as the aver- 
age Chinaman’s religion. The conflict between action and inaction 
ends in a compromise, or contentment with a very imperfect heaven 
on earth. This gives rise to a wise and merry philosophy of living, 
eventually typified in the life of T’ao Yiianming — in my opinion 
China’s greatest poet and most harmonious personality. 

The only problem unconsciously assumed by all Chinese philoso- 
phers to be of any importance is: how shall we enjoy life, and who 
can best enjoy life? No perfectionism, no straining after the unat- 
tainable, no postulating of the unknowable; but taking poor, 
mortal human nature as it is, how shall we organize our life that 
we can work peacefully, endure nobly and live happily? 

Who are we? That is the first question. It is a question almost 
impossible to answer. But we all agree that the busy self occupied 
in our daily activities is not quite the real self. We are quite sure 
we have lost something in the mere pursuit of living. When we 
watch a person running about looking for something in a field, 
the wise man can set a puzzle for all the spectators to solve: what 
has that person lost? Some one thinks it is a watch; another thinks 
it is a diamond brooch; and others will essay other guesses. After 
all these guesses have failed, the wise man who really doesn’t know 
what the person is seeking after tells the company: “I’ll tell you. 
He has lost some breath.” And no one can deny that he is right. 
So we often forget our true self in the pursuit of living, like a 
bird forgetting its own danger in pursuit of a mantis, which again 
forgets its own danger in pursuit of another prey, as is so beauti- 
fully expressed in a parable by Chuangtse: 

When Chuangtse was wandering in the park at Tiao-ling, he 
saw a strange bird which came from the south. Its wings were 
seven feet across. Its eyes were an inch in circumference. And it 
flew close past Chuangtse’s head to alight in a chestnut grove. 

“What manner of bird is this?” cried Chuangtse. “With 


strong wings it docs not fly away. With large eyes it does not 

So he picked up his skirts and strode towards it with his 
cross-bow, anxious to get a shot. Just then he saw a cicada 
enjoying itself in the shade, forgetful of all else. And he saw 
a mantis spring and seize it, forgetting in the act its own body, 
which the strange bird immediately pounced upon and made 
its prey. And this it was which had caused the bird to forget 
its own nature. 

“Alas!” cried Chuangtse with a sigh, “how creatures injure 
one another. Loss follows the pursuit of gain.” 

So he laid aside his bow and went home, driven away by the 
park-keeper who wanted to know what business he had there. 

For three months after this, Chuangtse did not leave the 
house; and at length Lin Chii asked him, saying, “Master, how 
is it that you have not been out for so long?” 

“While keeping my physical frame,” replied Chuangtse, “I 
lost sight of my real self. Gazing at muddy water, I lost sight 
of the clear abyss. Besides, I have learnt from the Master as 
follows: — ‘When you go into the world, follow its customs.’ 
Now when I strolled into the park at Tiao-ling, I forgot my 
real self. That strange bird which flew close past me to the 
chestnut grove, forgot its nature. The keeper of the chestnut 
grove took me for a thief. Consequently I have not been out.” 1 

Chuangtse was the eloquent follower of Laotse, as Mencius was 
the eloquent follower of Confucius, both separated from their 
masters by about a century. Chuangtse was a contemporary 
of Mencius, as Laotse was probably a contemporary of Confu- 
cius. But Mencius agreed with Chuangtse that we have lost 
something and the business of philosophy is to discover and recover 
that which is lost — in this case, “a child’s heart,” according to 
Mencius. “A great man is he who has not lost the heart of a child,” 
says this philosopher. Mencius regards the effect of the artificial 
life of civilization upon the youthful heart born in man as similar 
to the deforestation of our hills: 

1 From Professor H. A. Giles’s translation, Chuang Tzit (Quatrich, London), 
which is a complete translation of Chuangtse’s works. 

9 8 


There was once a time when the forests of the Niu Moun- 
tain were beautiful. But can the mountain any longer be re- 
garded as beautiful, since being situated near a big city, the 
woodsmen have hewed the trees down? The days and nights 
gave it rest, and the rains and the dew continued to nourish 
it, and a new life was continually springing up from the soil, 
but then the cattle and the sheep began to pasture upon it. 
That is why the Niu Mountain looks so bald, and when peo- 
ple see its baldness, they imagine that there was never any 
timber on the mountain. Is this the true nature of the moun- 
tain? And is there not a heart of love and righteousness in man, 
too? But how can that nature remain beautiful when it is 
hacked down every day, as the woodsman chops down the 
trees with his ax ? To be sure, the nights and days do the heal- 
ing and there is the nourishing air of the early dawn, which 
tends to keep him sound and normal, but this morning air is 
thin and is soon destroyed by what he does in the day. With 
this continuous hacking of the human spirit, the rest and re- 
cuperation obtained during the night are not sufficient to main- 
tain its level, and when the night’s recuperation does not 
suffice to maintain its level, then the man degrades himself to 
a state not far from the beast’s. People see that he acts like a 
beast and imagine that there was never any true character in 
him. But is this the true nature of man ? 

II. Passion, Wisdom and Courage: Mencius 

The ideal character best able to enjoy life is a warm, carefree and 
unafraid soul. Mencius enumerated the three “mature virtues” of 
his “great man” as “wisdom, compassion and courage.” I should 
like to lop off one syllable and regard as the qualities of a great 
soul passion, wisdom and courage. Luckily, we have in the Eng- 
lish language the word “passion” which in its usage very nearly 
corresponds to the Chinese word ch’ing. Both words start out with 
the narrower meaning of sexual passion, but both have a much 
wider significance. As Chang Ch’ao says, “A passionate nature 
always loves women, but one who loves women is not necessarily 
a passionate nature.” And again, “Passion holds up the bottom of 


the world, while genius paints its roof.” For unless we have pas- 
sion, we have nothing to start out in life with at all. It is passion 
that is the soul of life, the light in the stars, the lilt in music and 
song, the joy in flowers, the plumage in birds, the charm in woman, 
and the life in scholarship. It is as impossible to speak of a soul 
without passion as to speak of music without expression. It is that 
which gives us inward warmth and the rich vitality which enables 
us to face life cheerily. 

Or perhaps I am wrong in choosing the word “passion” when I 
speak of what the Chinese writers refer to as ch’ing. Should I 
translate it by the word “sentiment,” which is gentler and suggests 
less of the tumultuous qualities of stormy passion? Or perhaps we 
mean by it something very similar to what the early Romanticists 
call “sensibility,” which we find in a warm, generous and artistic 
soul. It is strange that among the Western philosophers so few, 
except Emerson, Amiel, Joubert and Voltaire, have a good word 
to say for passion. Perhaps we are arguing about words merely, 
while we mean the same thing. But then, if passion is different 
from sentiment and means something tumultuous and upsetting, 
then we haven’t got a Chinese word for it, and we still have to go 
back to the old word ch’ing . Is this an index of a difference in 
racial temperament, of the absence among the Chinese people of 
grand and compelling passions, which eat up one’s soul and form 
the stuff of tragedy in Western literature? Is this the reason why 
Chinese literature has not developed tragedy in the Greek sense; 
why Chinese tragic characters at the critical moment weep, give 
up their sweethearts to their enemy, or as in the case of Ch’u 
Pawang, stab their sweethearts and then plunge the knife into their 
own breasts? It is a sort of ending that will be found unsatisfying 
to a Western audience, but as Chinese life is, so is Chinese litera- 
ture. Man struggles with fate, gives up the battle, and the tragedy 
comes in the aftermath, in a flood of reminiscences, of vain regret 
and longing, such as we see in the tragedy of Emperor T’ang 
Minghuang, who after granting the suicide of his beloved queen 
to placate a rebellious army, lives in a dream world in memory of 


her. The tragic sense is shown in the remaining part of the Chi- 
nese play long after the denouement, in a swelling crescendo 
of sorrow. As he travels in his exile, he hears the distant music 
of cowbells in the hills on a rainy day and he composes the “Song 
of Rain on Cowbells” in her honor; everything he sees or touches, 
a little perfumed scarf that still retains its old scent, or an old maid 
servant of hers, reminds him of his beloved queen, and the play 
ends with him searching for her soul with the help of Taoist priests 
in the abode of the Immortals. So then, we have here a romantic 
sensibility, if we are not allowed to speak of it as passion. But it 
is passion mellowed down to a gentle glow. So it is characteristic 
of Chinese philosophers that while they disparage the human “de- 
sires” (in the sense of the “seven passions”), they have never dis- 
paraged passion or sentiment itself, but made it the very basis of a 
normal human life, so much so that they regard “the passion be- 
tween husband and wife as the very foundation of all normal 
human life.” 

It is unfortunately true that this matter of passion, or still better, 
sentiment, is something born in us, and that as we cannot choose 
our parents, we are born with a given cold or warm nature. On 
the other hand, no child is born with a really cold heart, and it 
is only in proportion as we lose that youthful heart that we lose 
the inner warmth in ourselves. Somewhere in our adult life, our 
sentimental nature is killed, strangled, chilled or atrophied by an 
unkind surrounding, largely through our own fault in neglecting 
to keep it alive, or our failure to keep clear of such surroundings. 
In the process of learning “world experience,” there is many a 
violence done to our original nature, when we learn to harden 
ourselves, to be artificial, and often to be cold-hearted and cruel, 
so that as one prides oneself upon gaining more and more worldly 
experience, his nerves become more and more insensitive and be- 
numbed — especially in the world of politics and commerce. As a 
result, we get the great “go-getter” pushing himself forward to 
the top and brushing everybody aside; we get the man of iron will 
and strong determination, with the last embers of sentiment, which 


he calls foolish idealism or sentimentality, gradually dying out in 
his breast. It is that sort of person who is beneath my contempt. 
The world has too many cold-hearted people. If sterilization of the 
unfit should be carried out as a state policy, it should begin with 
sterilizing the morally insensible, the artistically stale, the heavy 
of heart, the ruthlessly successful, the cold-heartedly determined 
and all those people who have lost the sense of fun in life — rather 
than the insane and the victims of tuberculosis. For it seems to me 
that while a man with passion and sentiment may do many foolish 
and precipitate things, a man without passion or sentiment is a joke 
and a caricature. Compared with Daudet’s Sappho, he is a worm, 
a machine, an automaton, a blot upon this earth. Many a prostitute 
lives a nobler life than a successful business man. What if Sappho 
sinned? For although she sinned, she also loved, and to those who 
love much, much will be forgiven. Anyway she emerged out of an 
equally harsh business environment with more of the youthful 
heart than many of our millionaires. The worship of Mary Mag- 
dalene is right. It is unavoidable that passion and sentiment should 
lead us into mistakes for which we are duly punished, yet there is 
many an indulgent mother who by her indulgence often let her 
love get the better of her judgment, and yet who, we feel sure, in 
her old age felt that she had had a more happy life with her family 
than many rigorous and austere souls. A friend told me the story 
of an old lady of seventy-eight who said to him, “As I look back 
upon my seventy-eight years, it still makes me happy to think of 
when I sinned; but when I think I was stupid, I cannot forgive 
myself even at this late day.” 

But life is harsh, and a man with a warm, generous and senti- 
mental nature may be easily taken in by his cleverer fellowman. 
The generous in nature often make mistakes by their generosity, 
by their too generous regard of their enemies and faith in their 
friends. Sometimes the generous man comes home disillusioned to 
write a poem of bitterness. That is the case of many a poet and 
scholar in China, as for instance that great tea-drinker, Chang Tai, 
who generously squandered his fortune, was betrayed by his own 



closest friends and relatives, and set down in twelve poems some 
of the bitterest verses I have ever read. But I have a suspicion that 
he kept on being generous to the end of his days, even when he 
was quite poor and destitute, being many times on the verge of 
starvation, and I have no doubt that those bitter sentiments passed 
away like a cloud and he was still quite happy. 

Nevertheless this warm generosity of soul has to be protected 
against life by a philosophy, because life is harsh, warmth of soul 
is not enough, and passion must be joined to wisdom and courage. 
To me wisdom and courage are the same thing, for courage is 
born of an understanding of life; he who completely understands 
life is always brave. Anyway that type of wisdom which does not 
give us courage is not worth having at all. Wisdom leads to cour- 
age by exercising a veto against our foolish ambitions and emanci- 
pating us from the fashionable humbug of this world, whether 
humbug of thought or humbug of life. 

There is a wealth of humbug in this life, but the multitudinous 
little humbugs have been classified by Chinese Buddhists under 
two big humbugs: fame and wealth. There is a story that Emperor 
Ch’ienlung once went up a hill overlooking the sea during his trip 
to South China and saw a great number of sailing ships busily 
plying the China Sea to and fro. He asked his minister what the 
people in those hundreds of ships were doing, and his minister 
replied that he saw only two ships, and their names were “Fame” 
and “Wealth.” Many cultured persons were able to escape the lure 
of wealth, but only the very greatest could escape the lure of fame. 
Once a monk was discoursing with his pupil on these two sources 
of worldly cares, and said: “It is easier to get rid of the desire for 
money than to get rid of the desire for fame. Even retired scholars 
and monks still want to be distinguished and well-known among 
their company. They want to give public discourses to a large au- 
dience, and not retire to a small monastery talking to one pupil, 
like you and me now.” The pupil replied : “Indeed, Master, you are 
the only man in the world who has conquered the desire for fame!” 
And the Master smiled. 


From my own observation of life, this Buddhist classification of 
life’s humbugs is not complete, and the great humbugs of life are 
three, instead of two: Fame, Wealth and Power. There is a con- 
venient American word which again combines these three hum- 
bugs into the One Great Humbug: Success. But many wise men 
know that the desires for success, fame and wealth are euphemistic 
names for the fears of failure, poverty and obscurity, and that these 
fears dominate our lives. There are many people who have already 
attained both fame and wealth, but who still insist on ruling others. 
They are the people who have consecrated their lives to the service 
of their country. The price is often very heavy. Ask a wise man 
to wave his silk hat to a crowd and make seven speeches a day and 
give him a presidency, and he will refuse to serve his country. 
James Bryce thinks the system of democratic government in Amer- 
ica is such that it is hardly calculated to attract the best men of 
the country into politics. I think the strenuousness of a presidential 
campaign alone is enough to frighten off all the wise souls of 
America. A public office often demands that a man attend six din- 
ners a week in the name of consecrating his life to the service of 
mankind. Why does he not consecrate himself to a simple supper 
at home and to his bed and his pyjamas? Under the spell of that 
humbug of fame or power, a man is soon prey to other incidental 
humbugs. There will be no end to it. He soon begins to want to 
reform society, to uplift others’ morality, to defend the church, to 
crush vice, to map programs for others to carry out, to block pro- 
grams that other people have mapped out, to read before a conven- 
tion a statistical report of what other people have done for him 
under his administration, to sit on committees examining blue- 
prints of an exposition, even to open an insane asylum (what 
cheek!) — in general, to interfere in other people’s lives. He soon 
forgets that these gratuitous assumptions of responsibility, these 
problems of reforming people and doing this and preventing one’s 
rivals from doing that, never existed for him before, perhaps had 
not even entered his mind. How completely the great problems of 
labor, unemployment and tariffs leave the mind of a defeated presi- 


dential candidate even two weeks after an election! Who is he that 
he should want to reform other people and uplift their morals and 
send other people into an insane asylum? But these primary and 
secondary humbugs keep him happily busy, if he is successful, 
and give him the illusion that he is really doing something and 
is therefore “somebody.” 

Yet there is a secondary social humbug, quite as powerful and 
universal, the humbug of fashion. The courage to be one’s own nat- 
ural self is quite a rare thing. The Greek philosopher Democritus 
thought he was doing a great service to mankind by liberating it 
from the oppression of two great fears: the fear of God and the 
fear of death. But even that does not liberate us from another 
equally universal fear: the fear of one’s neighbors. Few men who 
have liberated themselves from the fear of God and the fear of 
death are yet able to liberate themselves from the fear of man. 
Consciously or unconsciously, we are all actors in this life playing 
to the audience in a part and style approved by them. 

This histrionic talent, together with the related talent for imita- 
tion, which is a part of it, are the most outstanding traits of our 
simian inheritance. There are undoubted advantages to be derived 
from this showmanship, the most obvious being the plaudits of 
the audience. But then the greater the plaudits, the greater also are 
the flutterings of heart back stage. And it also helps one to make a 
living, so that no one is quite to blame for playing his part in a 
fashion approved by the gallery. 

The only objection is that the actor may replace the man and 
take entire possession of him. There are a few select souls who can 
wear their reputation and a high position with a smile and remain 
their natural selves; they are the ones who know they are acting 
when they are acting, who do not share the artificial illusions of 
rank, tide, property and wealth, and who accept these things with 
a tolerant smile when they come their way, but refuse to believe 
that they themselves are thereby different from ordinary human 
beings. It is this class of men, the truly great in spirit, who re- 
main essentially simple in their personal lives. It is because they do 


not entertain these illusions that simplicity is always the mark of 
the truly great. Nothing shows more conclusively a small mind 
than a little government bureaucrat suffering from illusions of his 
own grandeur, or a social upstart displaying her jewels, or a half- 
baked writer imagining himself to belong to the company of the 
immortals and immediately becoming a less simple and less natural 
human being. 

So deep is our histrionic instinct that we often forget that we 
have real lives to live off stage. And so we sweat and labor and go 
through life, living not for ourselves in accordance with our true 
instincts, but for the approval of society, like “old spinsters working 
with their needles to make wedding dresses for other women,” as 
the Chinese saying goes. 

III. Cynicism, Folly and Camouflage: Laotse 

Paradoxically, Laotse’s most wicked philosophy of “the old rogue” 
has been responsible for the highest ideal of peace, tolerance, 
simplicity and contentment. Such teachings include the wisdom of 
the foolish, the advantage of camouflage, the strength of weakness, 
and the simplicity of the truly sophisticated. Chinese art itself, with 
its poetic illusion and its glorification of the simple life of the wood- 
cutter and the fisherman, cannot exist apart from this philosophy. 
And at the bottom of Chinese pacificism is the willingness to put 
up with temporary losses and bide one’s time, the belief that, in the 
scheme of things, with nature operating by the law of action and 
reaction, no one has a permanent advantage over the others and no 
one is a “damn fool” all the time. 

The greatest wisdom seems like stupidity. 

The greatest eloquence like stuttering. 

Movement overcomes cold, 

But staying overcomes heat. 

So he by his limpid calm 

Puts everything right under heaven. 2 

3 This and the following quotations from Laotse’s Taotehching arc from Arthur 
Waley’s excellent translation, The Way and Its Power (Allen & Unwin, London). 


Knowing then that in Nature’s ways no man has a permanent 
advantage over others and no man is a damn fool all the time, the 
natural conclusion is that there is no use for contention. In Laotse’s 
words, the wise man “does not contend, and for that very reason 
no one under Heaven can contend with him.” Again he says, “Show 
me a man of violence that came to a good end, and I will take him 
for my teacher.” A modern writer might add, “Show me a dictator 
that can dispense with the services of a secret police, and I will be 
his follower.” For this reason, Laotse says, “When the Tao prevails 
not, horses are trained for battle; when the Tao prevails, horses 
are trained to pull dungcarts.” 

The best charioteers do not rush ahead; 

The best fighters do not make displays of wrath. 

The greatest conqueror wins without joining issue; 

The best user of men acts as though he were their inferior. 

This is called the power that comes of not contending, 

Is called the capacity to use men, 

The secret of being mated to heaven, to what was of old. 

The law of action and reaction brings about violence rebounding 
to violence: 

He who by Tao purposes to help a ruler of men 

Will oppose all conquest by force of arms; 

For such things are wont to rebound. 

Where armies are, thorns and brambles grow. 

The raising of a great host 

Is followed by a year of dearth. 

Therefore a good general effects his purpose and then stops; 
he does not take further advantage of his victory. 

Fulfills his purpose and does not glory in what he has done; 

Fulfills his purpose and does not boast of what he has done; 

Fulfills his purpose, but takes no pride in what he has done; 

Fulfills his purpose, but only as a step that could not be 

Fulfills his purpose, but without violence; 

For what has a time of vigor also has a time of decay. 

This is against Tao, 

And what is against Tao will soon perish. 


My feeling is that, if Laotse had been invited to take the chair at 
the Versailles Conference, there would not be a Hitler today. Hitler 
claims that he and his work must have been “blessed by God,” on 
the evidence of his miraculous rise to power. I am inclined to think 
that the matter is simpler than that, that he was blessed by the spirit 
of Clemenceau. Chinese pacifism is not that of the humanitarian, 
but that of the old rogue — based not upon universal love, but upon 
a convincing type of subtle wisdom. 

What is in the end to be shrunk 
Must first be stretched. 

Whatever is to be weakened 
Must begin by being made strong. 

What is to be overthrown 
Must begin by being set up. 

He who would be a taker 
Must begin as a giver. 

This is called “dimming” one’s light. 

It is thus that the soft overcomes the hard 
And the weak, the strong. 

“It is best to leave the fish down in his pool; 

Best to leave the State’s sharpest weapons 
where none can see them.” 

There has never been a more effective sermon more effectively 
preached on the strength of weakness, the victory of the peace- 
loving and the advantage of lying low than by Laotse. For water 
remains for Laotse forever as the symbol of the strength of the 
weak — water that gently drips and makes a hole in a rock, and 
water which has the great Taoistic wisdom of seeking the lowest 
level : 

How did the great rivers and seas get their kingship over 
the hundred lesser streams? 

Through the merit of being lower than they; that was 
how they got their kingship. 

An equally common symbol is that of “the Valley,” representing 
the hollow, the womb and mother of all things, the yin or the 


The Valley Spirit never dies. 

It is named the Mysterious Female. 

And the Doorway of the Mysterious Female 

Is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang. 

It is there within us all the while; 

Draw upon it as you will, it never runs dry. 

It would not be at all far-fetched to say that Oriental civilization 
represents the female principle, while the Occidental civilization 
represents the male principle. Anyway, there is something terribly 
resembling the womb or valley in China’s passive strength that, 
in Laotsean language, “receives into it all things under heaven, 
and being a valley, has all the time a power that suffices.” 

Against the desire of Julius Caesar to be the first man in a village, 
Laotse gives the opposite counsel of “Never be the first in the 
world.” This thought of the danger of being eminent is expressed 
by Chuangtse in the form of a satire against Confucius and his 
display of knowledge. There were many such libels against Confu- 
cius in the books of Chuangtse, for Confucius was dead when 
Chuangtse wrote, and there was no libel law in China. 

When Confucius was hemmed in between Ch’en and Ts’ai, 
he passed seven days without food. 

The minister Jen went to condole with him, and said, “You 
were near, Sir, to death.” 

“I was indeed,” replied Confucius. 

“Do you fear death, Sir?” inquired Jen. 

“I do,” said Confucius. 

“Then I will try to teach you,” said Jen, “the way not to die* 

“In the eastern sea there are certain birds, called the i-erh. 
They behave themselves in a modest and unassuming manner, 
as though unpossessed of ability. They fly simultaneously; they 
roost in a body. In advancing, none strives to be first; in re- 
treating, none venture to be last. In eating, none will be the 
first to begin; it is considered proper to take the leavings of 
others. Therefore, in their own ranks they are at peace, and the 
outside world is unable to harm them. And thus they escape 

“Straight trees are the first felled. Sweet w.ells are soonest 


exhausted. And you, you make a show of your knowledge in 
order to starde fools. You cultivate yourself in contrast to the 
degradation of others. And you blaze along as though the sun 
and moon were under your arms; consequendy, you cannot 
avoid trouble. . . 

“Good indeed!” replied Confucius; and forthwith he took 
leave of his friends and dismissed his disciples and retired to the 
wilds, where he dressed himself in skins and serge and fed on 
acorns and chestnuts. He passed among the beasts and birds 
and they took no heed of him. 3 

I have made a poem which sums up for me the message of 
Taoistic thought: 

There is the wisdom of the foolish, 

The gracefulness of the slow, 

The subtlety of stupidity, 

The advantage of lying low. 

This must sound to Christian readers like the Sermon on the 
Mount, and perhaps seem equally ineffective to them. Laotse gave 
the Beatitudes a cunning touch when he added: “Blessed are the 
idiots, for they are the happiest people on earth.” Following Laotse’s 
famous dictum that “The greatest wisdom is like stupidity; the 
greatest eloquence like stuttering,” Chuangtse says: “Spit forth 
intelligence.” Liu Chungyiian in the eighth century called his 
neighborhood hill “the Stupid Hill” and the nearby river “the 
Stupid River.” Cheng Panch’iao in the eighteenth century made 
the famous remark: “It is difficult to be muddle-headed. It is diffi- 
cult to be clever, but still more difficult to graduate from cleverness 
into muddle-headedness.” The praise of folly has never been in- 
terrupted in Chinese literature. The wisdom of this attitude can at 
once be understood through the American slang expression: “Don’t 
be too smart.” The wisest man is often one who pretends to be a 
“damn fool.” 

In the Chinese culture, therefore, we see the curious phenomenon 
of a high intellect growing suspicious of itself and developing, so 

3 Giles’s translation. 


far as I know, the only gospel of ignorance and the earliest theory 
of camouflage as the best weapon in the battle of life. From 
Chuangtse’s advice to “spit forth intelligence,” it is but a short 
step to the glorification of the idiot, which we see constandy re- 
flected in Chinese paintings and literary sketches of the beggar, or 
the disguised immortal, or the crazy monk, or the extraordinary 
recluse, as seen in The Travels of Mingliaotse (Chapter XI). The 
wise disenchantment with life receives a romantic or religious touch 
and enters the realm of poetic fantasy, when the poor, ragged and 
half-crazy monk becomes for us the symbol of highest wisdom 
and nobility of character. 

The popularity of fools is an undeniable fact. I have no doubt 
that, East or West, the world hates a man who is too smart in his 
dealings with his fellowmen. Yuan Chunglang wrote an essay 
showing why he and his brothers chose to keep four extremely 
stupid and extremely loyal servants. Anyone can run over the 
names of his friends and associates in his mind and verify this fact 
for himself, that those we like are not those we respect for distin- 
guished ability and those we respect for distinguished ability are 
not those we like, and that we like a stupid servant because he is 
more reliable, and because in his company we can better relax and 
do not have to set up a condition of defense against his presence. 
Most wise men choose to marry a not too smart wife, and most 
wise girls choose a not too smart husband as a life companion. 

There have been a number of famous fools in Chinese history, 
all extremely popular and beloved for their real or affected crazi- 
ness. Among these, for instance, is the famous Sung painter, Mi 
Fei, styled “Mi Tien” (or “Mi the Crazy One”), who got this title 
because he once appeared in a ceremonial robe to worship a piece 
of jagged rock that he called his “father-in-law.” Both Mi Fei and 
the famous Yuan painter, Ni Yiinlin, had a mild form of dirt-phobia 
or fastidious cleanliness. There was the famous crazy poet-monk 
Hanshan, who went about with disheveled hair and bare feet, 
doing odd kitchen jobs at different monasteries, eating the left- 
overs, and scribbling immortal poetry on the temple and kitchen 



walls. The greatest crazy monk who has captured the imagination 
of the Chinese people is undoubtedly Chi Tien (“Chi the Crazy 
One”), or Chi Kung (“Master Chi”), who is the hero of a popular 
romance steadily being lengthened and added to until it is about 
three times the size of Don Quixote, and still seems endless. For he 
lives in a world of magic, medicine, roguery, and drunkenness, 
and possesses the gift of appearing at different cities several hundred 
miles apart on the same day. The temple to his honor still stands at 
Hupao near the West Lake of Hangchow today. To a lesser degree, 
the great romantic geniuses of the sixteenth and seventeenth cen- 
turies, while decidedly as normal as we, tended through their 
unconventionalities of appearance and conduct to give people an 
impression of being crazy, such as Hsii Wench’ang, Li Chowu and 
Chin Shengt’an (literally, “the Sigh of the Sage,” a name he gave 
himself because he said that when he was born, a mysterious sigh 
was heard in the village temple of Confucius). 

IV. “Philosophy of Half-and-Half”: Tsesse 

I have no doubt that a philosophy which enjoins the carefree 
and conscience-free life has a strong tendency to warn us away 
from a too busy life and from too great responsibilities, and there- 
fore tends to decrease the desire for action. On the other hand, 
the modern man needs this refreshing wind of cynicism which 
cannot but do him some good. Probably more harm is done by a 
forward-looking philosophy delivering man over to a life of futile, 
wasteful activities than is ever done by all the cynicism of the ancient 
and modern philosophies combined. There are too many physio- 
logical impulses for action in every man, ready to counteract this 
philosophy, and in spite of the popularity of this great Philosophy 
of the Scamp, the Chinese people are still one of the most industri- 
ous on earth. The majority of men cannot be cynics, simply because 
the majority of men are not philosophers. 

As far as I can see, therefore, there is very little danger of cyni- 
cism being transformed into a general vogue followed by the herd. 



Even in China, where the Taoist philosophy finds an instinctive 
response in the Chinese breast, and where that philosophy has been 
at work for several thousand years, staring at us from every poem 
and every scroll of landscape painting, life still goes on merrily with 
lots of people believing in wealth and fame and power, quite de- 
termined and anxious to serve their country. Were it not so, human 
life would not be able to get along at all. No, the Chinese are 
cynics and poets only when they have failed; most of my country- 
men are still very good showmen. The effect of Taoistic cynicism 
has been only to slow down the tempo of life, and in the case of 
natural calamities and human misrule, to promote trust in the law of 
action and reaction, which brings about justice in the end. 

And yet there is an opposite influence in Chinese thought in 
general which counteracts this carefree philosophy, the philosophy 
of the natural vagabond. Opposed to the philosophy of nature’s 
gentlemen, there is the philosophy of society’s gendemen; opposed 
to Taoism, there is Confucianism. Insofar as Taoism and Confu- 
cianism mean merely the negative and positive outlooks on life, I 
do not think they are Chinese, but are inherent in all human na- 
ture. We are all born half Taoists and half Confucianists. The 
logical conclusion of a thorough-going Taoist would be to go to 
the mountains and live as a hermit or a recluse, to imitate as far 
as possible the simple carefree life of the woodcutter aind the fisher- 
man, the woodcutter who is lord of the green hills and the fisher- 
man who is the owner of the blue waters. The Taoist recluse, 
half-hidden in the clouds on top of the mountain, looks down at 
the woodcutter and the fisherman holding an idle conversation, 
remarking that the hills go on being green and the waters go on 
flowing just to please themselves, entirely oblivious of the two 
tiny conversationalists. From this reflection, he gets a sense of 
perfect peace. And yet it is poor philosophy that teaches us to 
escape from human society altogether. 

There is still a greater philosophy than this naturalism, namely, 
the philosophy of humanism. The highest ideal of Chinese thought 


ir 3 

is therefore a man who does not have to escape from human 
society and human life in order to preserve his original, happy 
nature. He is only a second-rate recluse, still slave to his environ- 
ment, who has to escape from the cities and live away in the moun- 
tains in solitude. “The Great Recluse is the city recluse,” because 
he has sufficient mastery over himself not to be afraid of his sur- 
roundings. He is therefore the Great Monk (the \aoseng) who 
returns to human society and eats pork and drinks wine and mixes 
with women, without detriment to his own soul. There is, there- 
fore, the possibility of the merging of the two philosophies. The 
contrast between Confucianism and Taoism is relative, the two 
doctrines setting forth only two great extremes, and between them 
there are many intermediate stages. 

Those are the best cynics who are half-cynics. The highest type 
of life after all is the life of sweet reasonableness as taught by 
Confucius’ grandson, Tsesse, author of The Golden Mean. No 
philosophy, ancient or modern, dealing with the problems of 
human life has yet discovered a more profound truth than this 
doctrine of a well-ordered life lying somewhere between the two 
extremes — the Doctrine of the Half-and-Half. It is that spirit of 
sweet reasonableness, arriving at a perfect balance between action 
and inaction, shown in the ideal of a man living in half-fame and 
semi-obscurity; half-lazily active and half-actively lazy; not so poor 
that he cannot pay his rent, and not so rich that he doesn’t have to 
work a little or couldn’t wish to have slightly more to help his 
friends; who plays the piano, but only well enough for his most 
intimate friends to hear, and chiefly to please himself; who collects, 
but just enough to load his mantelpiece; who reads, but not too 
hard; learns a lot but does not become a specialist; writes, but has 
his correspondence to the Times half of the time rejected and half 
of the time published — in short, it is that ideal of middle-class life 
which I believe to be the sanest ideal of life ever discovered by 
the Chinese. This is the ideal so well expressed in Li Mi-an’s “The 
Half-and-Half Song”: 



By far the greater half have I seen through 
This floating life — Ah, there’s a magic word — 

This “half” — so rich in implications. 

It bids us taste the joy of more than we 
Can ever own. Halfway in life is man’s 
Best state, when slackened pace allows him ease; 

A wide world lies halfway ’twixt heaven and earth; 
To live halfway between the town and land, 

Have farms halfway between the streams and hills; 

Be half-a-scholar, and half-a-squire, and half 
In business; half as gentry live, 

And half related to the common folk; 

And have a house that’s half genteel, half plain, 
Half elegantly furnished and half bare; 

Dresses and gowns that are half old, half new, 

And food half epicure’s, half simple fare; 

Have servants not too clever, not too dull; 

A wife who’s not too simple, nor too smart — 

So then, at heart, I feel I’m half a Buddha, 

And almost half a Taoist fairy blest. 

One half myself to Father Heaven I 
Return; the other half to children leave — 

Half thinking how for my posterity 
To plan and provide, and yet half minding how 
To answer God when the body’s laid at rest . 4 
He is most wisely drunk who is half drunk; 

And flowers in half-bloom look their prettiest; 

As boats at half-sail sail the steadiest, 

And horses held at half-slack reins trot best. 

Who half too much has, adds anxiety, 

But half too little, adds possession’s zest. 

Since life’s of sweet and bitter compounded, 

Who tastes but half is wise and cleverest. 

We have here, then, a compounding of Taoistic cynicism with 
the Confucian positive outlook into a philosophy of the half-and- 
half. And because man is born between the real earth and the 
unreal heaven, I believe that, however unsatisfactory it may seem 
on the first look to a Westerner, with his incredibly forward-look- 

4 Literally, “Half thinking how to face King Yenlo of Hell.” 


Ix 5 

ing point of view, it is still the best philosophy, because it is the 
most human. After all, a half Lindbergh would be better, be- 
cause more happy, than a complete Lindbergh. I am quite sure 
Lindbergh would be much happier if he had flown only halfway 
across the Atlantic. After all allowances are made for the necessity 
of having a few supermen in our midst — explorers, conquerors, 
great inventors, great presidents, heroes who change the course 
of history — the happiest man is still the man of the middle-class 
who has earned a slight means of economic independence, who 
has done a little, but just a little, for mankind, and who is slightly 
distinguished in his community, but not too distinguished. It is only 
in this milieu of well-known obscurity and financial competence 
with a pinch, when life is fairly carefree and yet not altogether 
carefree, that the human spirit is happiest and succeeds best. After 
all, we have to get on in this life, and so we must bring philosophy 
down from heaven to earth. 

V. A Lover of Life: T’ao Yuanming 

It has been shown, therefore, that with the proper merging of 
the positive and the negative outlooks on life, it is possible to 
achieve a harmonious philosophy of the “half-and-half” lying some- 
where between action and inaction, between being led by the nose 
into a world of futile busy-ness and complete flight from a life of 
responsibilities, and that so far as we can discover with the help of 
all the philosophies of the world, this is the sanest and happiest 
ideal for man’s life on earth. What is still more important, the 
mixture of these two different outlooks makes a harmonious per- 
sonality possible, that harmonious personality which is the 
acknowleged aim of all culture and education. And significantly, 
out of this harmonious personality, we see a joy and love of life. 

It is difficult for me to describe the qualities of this love of life; 
it is easier to speak in a parable or tell the story of a true lover 
of life, as he really lived. And the picture of T’ao Yuanming, the 
greatest poet and most harmonious product of Chinese culture, 


inevitably comes to my mind. 5 There will be no one in China to 
object when I say that T’ao represents to us the most perfectly har- 
monious and well-rounded character in the entire Chinese literary 
tradition. Without leading an illustrious official career, without 
power and outward achievements and without leaving us a greater 
literary heritage than a thin volume of poems and three or four 
essays in prose, he remains today a beacon shining through the 
ages, forever a symbol to lesser poets and writers of what the high- 
est human character should be. There is a simplicity in his life, as 
well as in his style, which is awe-inspiring and a constant reproach 
to more brilliant and more sophisticated natures. And he stands, 
today, as a perfect example of the true lover of life, because in him 
the rebellion against worldly desires did not lead him to attempt a 
total escape, but has reached a harmony with the life of the senses. 
About two centuries of literary romanticism and the Taoistic cult 
of the idle life and rebellion against Confucianism had been work- 
ing in China and joined forces with the Confucian philosophy of 
the previous centuries to make the emergence of this harmonious 
personality possible. In T’ao we find the positive outlook had lost 
its foolish complacency and the cynic philosophy had lost its bitter 
rebelliousness (a trait we see still in Thoreau — a sign of imma- 
turity), and human wisdom first reaching full maturity in a spirit 
of tolerant irony. 

T’ao represents to me that strange characteristic of Chinese cul- 
ture, a curious combination of devotion to the flesh and arrogance 
of the spirit, of spirituality without asceticism and materialism with- 
out sensuality, in which the senses and the spirit have come to live 
together in harmony. For the ideal philosopher is one who under- 
stands the charm of women without being coarse, who loves life 
heartily but loves it with restraint, and who sees the unreality of the 
successes and failures of the active world, and stands somewhat aloof 
and detached, without being hostile to it. Because T’ao reached that 
true harmony of spiritual development, we see a total absence of 
inner conflict and his life was as natural and effortless as his poetry. 

c Tao Ch’ien {alias “Yuanming”), A. D. 372-427. 



T’ao was born toward the end of the fourth century of our era, 
the great grandson of a distinguished scholar and official, who in 
order to keep himself from being idle, moved a pile of bricks from 
one place to another in the morning, and moved them back in the 
afternoon. In his youth he accepted a minor official job in order 
to support his old parents, but soon resigned and returned to the 
farm, tilling the field himself as a farmer, from which he developed 
a kind of bodily ailment. One day he asked his relatives and 
friends, “Would it be all right for me to go out as a minstrel singer 
in order to pay for the upkeep of my garden?” On hearing this, 
certain of his friends got him a position as a magistrate of 
P’engcheh, near Kiukiang. Being very fond of wine, he com- 
manded that all the fields belonging to the local government should 
be planted with glutinous rice, from which wine could be made, 
and only on the protestations of his wife did he allow one-sixth to 
be planted with another kind of rice. When a government delegate 
came and his secretary told him that he should receive the little 
fellow with his gown properly girdled, T’ao sighed and said, “I 
cannot bend and bow for the sake of five bushels of rice.” And he 
immediately resigned and wrote that famous poem, “Ah, Home- 
ward Bound I Go!” From then on, he lived the life of a farmer 
and repeatedly refused later calls to office. Poor himself, he lived 
in communion with the poor, and he expressed a certain paternal 
regret in a letter to his sons that they should be so poorly clad 
and do the work of a common laborer. But when he managed to 
send a peasant boy to his sons when he was away, to help them do 
the work of carrying water and gathering fuel, he said to them, 
“Treat him well, for he is also some one’s son.” 6 

His only weakness was a fondness for wine. Living very much 
to himself, he seldom saw guests, but whenever there was wine, 
he would sit down with the company, even though he might not 
be acquainted with the host. At other times, when he was the host 
himself and got drunk first, he would say to his guests, “I am 
drunk and thinking of sleep; you can all go.” He had a stringed 

6 Considered one of his greatest sayings by the Chinese. 


instrument, the ch’in, without any strings left. It was an ancient 
instrument that could be played only in an extremely slow manner 
and only in a state of perfect mental calm. After a feast, or when 
feeling in a musical mood, he would express his musical feelings 
by fondling and fingering this stringless instrument. “I appreciate 
the flavor of music; what need have I for the sounds from the 

Humble and simple and independent, he was extremely chary 
of company. A magistrate, one Wang, who was his great admirer, 
wanted to cutivate his friendship, but found it very difficult to see 
him. With his perfect naturalness he said, “I’m keeping to myself 
because by nature I’m not made for the life of society, and I am 
staying in the house because of an ailment. Far be it from me to 
act in this manner in order to acquire a reputation for being high 
and aloof.” Wang therefore had to plot with a friend in order to 
see him; this friend had to induce him to leave his home, by invit- 
ing him to a feast and an accidental meeting. When he was 
halfway and stopped at a pavilion, wine was presented. T’ao’s eyes 
brightened and he gladly sat down to drink, when Wang, who had 
been hiding nearby, came out to meet him. And he was so happy 
that he remained there talking with him the whole afternoon, and 
forgot to go on to his friend’s place. Wang saw that he had no 
shoes on his feet and ordered his subordinates to make a pair for 
him. When these minor officials asked for the measurements, he 
stretched forth his feet and asked them to take the measure. And 
thereafter, whenever Wang wanted to see him, he had to wait in 
the forest or around the lake, so that perchance he might meet the 
poet. Once when his friends were brewing wine, they took his 
linen turban to use it as a strainer, and after the wine had been 
strained, he wound the turban again around his head. 

There was then in the great Lushan Mountains, at whose foot he 
lived, a great society of illustrious Zen Buddhists, and the leader, a 
great scholar, tried to get him to join the Lotus Society. One day he 
was invited to come to a party, and his condition was that he 


JI 9 

should be allowed to drink. This breaking of the Buddhist rule was 
granted him and he went. But when it came to putting his name 
down as a member, he “knitted his brows and stole away.” This was 
a society that so great a poet as Hsieh Lingyiin had been very 
anxious to join, but could not get in. But still the abbot courted his 
friendship and one day he invited him to drink, together with 
another great Taoist friend. They were then a company of three; 
the abbot, representing Buddhism, T’ao representing Confucianism, 
and the other friend representing Taoism. It had been the abbot’s 
life vow never to go beyond a certain bridge in his daily walks, but 
one day when he and the other friend were sending T’ao home, 
they were so pleasurably occupied in their conversation that the 
abbot went past the bridge without knowing it. When it was 
pointed out to him, the company of three laughed. This incident 
of the three laughing old men became the subject of popular 
Chinese paintings, because it symbolized the happiness and gaiety 
of three carefree, wise souls, representing three religions united by 
the sense of humor. 

And so he lived and died, a carefree and conscience-free, humble 
peasant-poet, and a wise and merry old man. But something in his 
small volume of poems on drinking and the pastoral life, his three 
or four casual essays, one letter to his sons, three sacrificial prayers 
(including one to himself), and some of his remarks handed down 
to posterity shows a sentiment and a genius for harmonious living 
that reached perfect naturalness and never has yet been surpassed. 
It was this great love of life that was expressed in the poem which 
he wrote one day in November, A. D. 405, when he decided to lay 
down the burdens of the magistrate’s office. 7 

Ah, homeward bound I go! why not go home, seeing that 
my field and garden with weeds are overgrown? Myself have 
made my soul serf to my body: why have vain regrets and 
mourn alone? 

7 This poem is in the form of a ju, progressing in parallel constructions, like 
the Psalms , and sometimes rhymed. 



Fret not over bygones and the forward journey take. Only 
a short distance have I gone astray, and I know today I am 
right, if yesterday was a complete mistake. 

Lightly floats and drifts the boat, and gendy flows and flaps 
my gown. I inquire the road of a wayfarer, and sulk at the 
dimness of the dawn. 

Then when I catch sight of my old roofs, joy will my steps 
quicken. Servants will be there to bid me welcome, and wait- 
ing at the door are the greeting children. 

Gone to seed, perhaps, are my garden paths, but there will 
sdll be the chrysanthemums and the pine! I shall lead the 
youngest boy in by the hand, and on the table there stands a 
cup full of wine! 

Holding the pot and cup I give myself a drink, happy to 
see in the courtyard the hanging bough. I lean upon the south- 
ern window with an immense satisfaction, and note that the 
litde place is cosy enough to walk around. 

The garden grows more familiar and interesting with the 
daily walks. What if no one ever knocks at the always closed 
door! Carrying a cane I wander at peace, and now and then 
look aloft to gaze at the blue above. 

There the clouds idle away from their mountain recesses 
without any intent or purpose, and birds, when tired of their 
wandering flights, will think of home. Darkly then fall the 
shadows and, ready to come home, I yet fondle the lonely pines 
and loiter around. 

Ah, homeward bound I go! Let me from now on learn to 
live alone! The world and I are not made for one another, and 
why drive round like one looking for what he has not found? 

Content shall I be with conversations with my own kin, and 
there will be music and books to while away the hours. The 
farmers will come and tell me that spring is here and there 
will be work to do at the western farm. 

Some order covered wagons; some row in small boats. 
Sometimes we explore quiet, unknown ponds, and sometimes 
we climb over steep, rugged mounds. 



There the trees, happy of heart, grow marvelously green, 
and spring water gushes forth with a gurgling sound. I admire 
how things grow and prosper according to their seasons, and 
feel that thus, too, shall my life go its round. 

Enough! How long yet shall I this mortal shape keep? Why 
not take life as it comes, and why hustle and bustle like one on 
an errand bound ? 

Wealth and power are not my ambitions, and unattainable 
is the abode of the gods! I would go forth alone on a bright 
morning, or perhaps, planting my cane, begin to pluck the 
weeds and till the ground. 

Or I would compose a poem beside a clear stream, or per- 
haps go up Tungkao and make a long-drawn call on the top 
of the hill. So would I be content to live and die, and without 
questionings of the heart, gladly accept Heaven’s will. 

T’ao might be taken as an “escapist,” and yet it was not so. What 
he tried to escape from was politics and not life itself. If he had 
been a logician, he might have decided to escape from life alto- 
gether by becoming a Buddhist monk. With T’ao’s great love of 
life, he could not have been willing to escape from it altogether. 
His wife and children were too real for him, his garden and the 
bough stretching across his courtyard and the lonely pines which 
he fondled were altogether too attractive, and being a reasonable 
man, instead of a logician, he stuck to them. That was his love of 
life and his jealousy over it, and it was from this positive, but reason- 
able, attitude toward life that he arrived at the feeling of harmony 
with life which was characteristic of his culture. From that har- 
mony with life welled forth the greatest poetry in China. Of the 
earth and earth-born, his conclusion was not to escape from it, but 
“to go forth alone on a bright morning, or perhaps, planting his 
cane, begin to pluc\ the weeds and till the ground.” T’ao merely 
returned to the farm and to his family. The end was harmony and 
not rebellion. 

Chapter Six 


I. The Problem of Happiness 

THE enjoyment of life covers many things: the enjoyment of our- 
selves, of home life, of trees, flowers, clouds, winding rivers and 
falling cataracts and the myriad things in Nature, and then the 
enjoyment of poetry, art, contemplation, friendship, conversation, 
and reading, which are all some form or other of the communion 
of spirits. There are obvious things like the enjoyment of food, a 
gay party or family reunion, an outing on a beautiful spring day; 
and less obvious things like the enjoyment of poetry, art and con- 
templation. I have found it impossible to call these two classes of 
enjoyment material and spiritual, first because I do not believe in 
this distinction, and secondly because I am puzzled whenever I 
proceed to make this classification. How can I say, when I see a 
gay picnic party of men and women and old people and children, 
what part of their pleasures is material and what part spiritual? I 
see a child romping about on the grass plot, another child making 
daisy chains, their mother holding a piece of sandwich, the uncle 
of the family biting a juicy, red apple, the father sprawling on the 
ground looking at the sailing clouds, and the grandfather holding 
a pipe in his mouth. Probably somebody is playing a gramophone, 
and from the distance there come the sound of music and the dis- 
tant roar of the waves. Which of these pleasures is material and 
which spiritual? Is it so easy to draw a distinction between the 
enjoyment of a sandwich and the enjoyment of the surrounding 
landscape, which we call poetry? Is it possible to regard the enjoy- 
ment of music which we call art, as decidedly a higher type of 
pleasure than the smoking of a pipe, which we call material? This 
classification between material and spiritual pleasures is therefore 
confusing, unintelligible and untrue for me. It proceeds, I suspect, 
from a false philosophy, sharply dividing the spirit from the flesh, 
and not supported by a closer direct scrutiny of our real pleasures. 




Or have I perhaps assumed too much and begged the question 
of the proper end of human life? I have always assumed that 
the end of living is the true enjoyment of it. It is so simply because 
it is so. I rather hesitate at the word “end” or “purpose.” Such an 
end or purpose of life, consisting in its true enjoyment, is not so 
much a conscious purpose, as a natural attitude toward human life. 
The word “purpose” suggests too much contriving and endeavor. 
The question that faces every man born into this world is not what 
should be his purpose, which he should set about to achieve, but 
just what to do with life, a life which is given him for a period of 
on the average fifty or sixty years? The answer that he should 
order his life so that he can find the greatest happiness in it is more 
a practical question, similar to that of how a man should spend 
his weekend, than a metaphysical proposition as to what is the 
mystic purpose of his life in the scheme of the universe. 

On the contrary, I rather think that philosophers who start out 
to solve the problem of the purpose of life beg the question by 
assuming that life must have a purpose. This question, so much 
pushed to the fore among Western thinkers, is undoubtedly given 
that importance through the influence of theology. I think we as- 
sume too much design and purpose altogether. And the very fact 
that people try to answer this question and quarrel over it and 
are puzzled by it serves to show it up as quite vain and uncalled 
for. Had there been a purpose or design in life, it should not have 
been so puzzling and vague and difficult to find out. 

The question may be divided into two: either that of a divine 
purpose, which God has set for humanity, or that of a human 
purpose, a purpose that mankind should set for itself. As far as the 
first is concerned, I do not propose to enter into the question, be- 
cause everything that we think God has in mind necessarily pro- 
ceeds from our own mind; it is what we imagine to be in God’s 
mind, and it is really difficult for human intelligence to guess at 
a divine intelligence. What we usually end up with by this sort 
of reasoning is to make God the color-sergeant of our army and to 
makf Him as chauvinistic as ourselves; He cannot, so we conceive, 



possibly have a “divine purpose” and “destiny” for the world, or 
for Europe, but only for our beloved Fatherland. I am quite sure 
the Nazis can’t conceive of God without a swastika arm-band. This 
Gott is always mit uns and cannot possibly be mit ihnen. But the 
Germans are not the only people who think this way. 

As far as the second question is concerned, the point of dispute 
is not what is, but what should be, the purpose of human life, and 
it is therefore a practical, and not a metaphysical question. Into this 
question of what should be the purpose of human life, every man 
projects his own conceptions and his own scale of values. It is for 
this reason that we quarrel over the question, because our scales 
of values differ from one another. For myself, I am content to be 
less philosophical and more practical. I should not presume that 
there must be necessarily a purpose, a meaning of human existence. 
As Walt Whitman says, “I am sufficient as I am.” It is sufficient 
that I live — and am probably going to live for another few decades 
— and that human life exists. Viewed that way, the problem be- 
comes amazingly simple and admits of no two answers. What can 
be the end of human life except the enjoyment of it? 

It is strange that this problem of happiness, which is the great 
question occupying the minds of all pagan philosophers, has been 
entirely neglected by Christian thinkers. The great question that 
bothers theological minds is not human happiness, but human “sal- 
vation” — a tragic word. The word has a bad flavor for me, because 
in China I hear everyday some one talking about our “national 
salvation.” Everybody is trying to “save” China. It suggests the 
feeling of people on a sinking ship, a feeling of ultimate doom and 
the best method of getting away alive. Christianity, which has been 
described as “the last sigh of two expiring worlds” (Greek and 
Roman), still retains something of that characteristic today in its 
preoccupation with the question of salvation. The question of 
living is forgotten in the question of getting away alive from this 
world. Why should man bother himself so much about salvation, 
unless he has a feeling of being doomed? Theological minds are 
so much occupied with salvation, and so little with happiness, that 


I2 5 

all they can tell us about the future is that there will be a vague 
heaven, and when questioned about what we are going to do 
there and how we are going to be happy in heaven, they have only 
ideas of the vaguest sort, such as singing hymns and wearing white 
robes. Mohammed at least painted a picture of future happiness 
with rich wine and juicy fruits and black-haired, big-eyed, passion- 
ate maidens that we laymen can understand. Unless heaven is made 
much more vivid and convincing for us, there is no reason why 
one should strive to go there, at the cost of neglecting this earthly 
existence. As some one says, “An egg today is better than a hen 
tomorrow.” At least, when we’re planning a summer vacation, we 
take the trouble to find out some details about the place we are 
going to. If the tourist bureau is entirely vague on the question, I 
am not interested; I remain where I am. Are we going to strive 
and endeavor in heaven, as I am quite sure the believers in progress 
and endeavor must assume? But how can we strive and make 
progress when we are already perfect? Or are we going merely to 
loaf and do nothing and not worry? In that case, would it not 
be better for us to learn to loaf while on this earth as a preparation 
for our eternal life? 

If we must have a view of the universe, let us forget ourselves 
and not confine it to human life. Let us stretch it a litde and 
include in our view the purpose of the entire creation — the rocks, 
the trees and the animals. There is a scheme of things (although 
“scheme” is another word, like “end” and “purpose,” which I 
strongly distrust) — I mean there is a pattern of things in the crea- 
tion, and we can arrive at some sort of opinion, however lacking 
in finality, about this entire universe, and then take our place in it. 
This view of nature and our place in it must be natural, since we 
are a vital part of it in our life and go back to it when we die. 
Astronomy, geology, biology and history all provide pretty good 
material to help us form a fairly good view if we don’t attempt 
too much and jump at conclusions. It doesn’t matter if, in this 
bigger view of the purpose of the creation, man’s place recedes a 
little in importance. It is enough that he has a place, and by living 



in harmony with nature around him, he will be able to form a 
workable and reasonable outlook on human life itself. 

II. Human Happiness Is Sensuous 

All human happiness is biological happiness. That is strictly scien- 
tific. At the risk of being misunderstood, I must make it clearer : all 
human happiness is sensuous happiness. The spiritualists will mis- 
understand me, I am sure; the spiritualists and materialists must 
forever misunderstand each other, because they don’t talk the same 
language, or mean by the same word different things. Are we, too, 
in this problem of securing happiness to be deluded by the spiritual- 
ists, and admit that true happiness is only happiness of the spirit? 
Let us admit it at once and immediately proceed to qualify it by 
saying that the spirit is a condition of the perfect functioning of the 
endocrine glands. Happiness for me is largely a matter of digestion. 
I have to take cover under an American college president to insure 
my reputation and respectability when I say that happiness is largely 
a matter of the movement of the bowels. The American college 
president in question used to say with great wisdom in his address 
to each class of freshmen, “There are only two things I want you to 
keep in mind: read the Bible and keep your bowels open.” What a 
wise, genial old soul he was to have said that! If one’s bowels move, 
one is happy, and if they don’t move, one is unhappy. That is all 
there is to it. 

Let us not lose ourselves in the abstract when we talk of happi- 
ness, but get down to facts and analyze for ourselves what are the 
truly happy moments of our life. In this world of ours, happiness 
is very often negative, the complete absence of sorrow or mortifica- 
tion or bodily ailment. But happiness can also be positive, and then 
we call it joy. To me, for instance, the truly happy moments are: 
when I get up in the morning after a night of perfect sleep and 
sniff the morning air and there is an expansiveness in the lungs, 
when I feel inclined to inhale deeply and there is a fine sensation 
of movement around the skin and muscles of the chest, and when, 


I2 7 

therefore, I am fit for work; or when I hold a pipe in my hand and 
rest my legs on a chair, and the tobacco burns slowly and evenly; 
or when I am traveling on a summer day, my throat parched with 
thirst, and I see a beautiful clear spring, whose very sound makes 
me happy, and I take off my socks and shoes and dip my feet in 
the delightful, cool water; or when after a perfect dinner I lounge 
in an armchair, when there is no one I hate to look at in the com- 
pany and conversation rambles off at a light pace to an unknown 
destination, and I am spiritually and physically at peace with the 
world; or when on a summer afternoon I see black clouds gather- 
ing on the horizon and know for certain a July shower is coming 
in a quarter of an hour, but being ashamed to be seen going out 
into the rain without an umbrella, I hastily set out to meet the 
shower halfway across the fields and come home drenched through 
and through and tell my family that I was simply caught by the 

Just as it is impossible for me to say whether I love my children 
physically or spiritually when I hear their chattering voices or when 
I see their plump legs, so I am totally unable to distinguish between 
the joys of the mind and the joys of the flesh. Does anybody ever 
love a woman spiritually without loving her physically? And is it 
so easy a matter for a man to analyze and separate the charms of 
the woman he loves — things like laughter, smiles, a way of tossing 
one’s head, a certain attitude toward things? And after all every 
girl feels happier when she is well-dressed. There is a soul-uplift- 
ing quality about lipstick and rouge and a spiritual calm and poise 
that comes from the knowledge of being well-dressed, which is 
real and definite for the girl herself and of which the spiritualist 
has no inkling of an idea. Being made of this mortal flesh, the par- 
tition separating our flesh from our spirit is extremely thin, and the 
world of spirit, with its finest emotions and greatest appreciations 
of spiritual beauty, cannot be reached except with our senses. There 
is no such thing as morality and immorality in the sense of touch, 
of hearing and vision. There is a great probability that our loss of 



capacity for enjoying the positive joys of life is largely due to the 
decreased sensibility of our senses and our lack of full use of them. 

Why argue about it? Let us take concrete instances and cull 
examples from all the great lovers of life, Eastern and Western, 
and see what they describe as their own happy moments, and how 
intimately they are connected with the very senses of hearing and 
smelling and seeing. Here is a description of the high aesthetic 
pleasure that Thoreau 1 got from hearing the sound of crickets: 

First observe the creak of crickets. It is quite general amid 
these rocks. The song of only one is more interesting to me. It 
suggests lateness, but only as we come to a knowledge of 
eternity after some acquaintance with time. It is only late for 
all trivial and hurried pursuits. It suggests a wisdom mature, 
never late, being above all temporal considerations, which pos- 
sesses the coolness and maturity of autumn amidst the aspira- 
tion of spring and the heats of summer. To the birds they 
say: “Ah! you speak like children from impulse; Nature 
speaks through you; but with us it is ripe knowledge. The 
seasons do not revolve for us; we sing their lullaby.” So they 
chant, eternal, at the roots of the grass. It is heaven where they 
are, and their dwelling need not be heaved up. Forever the 
same, in May and in November (?). Serenely wise, their song 
has the security of prose. They have drunk no wine but the 
dew. It is no transient love-strain hushed when the incubating 
season is past, but a glorifying of God and enjoying of him 
forever. They sit aside from the revolution of the seasons. 
Their strain is unvaried as Truth. Only in their saner 
moments do men hear the crickets. 

And see how Walt Whitman’s senses of smell and sight and sound 
contribute to his spirituality and what great importance he places 
upon them: 

A snowstorm in the morning, and continuing most of the 
day. But I took a walk over two hours, the same woods and 

1 Thoreau is the most Chinese of all American authors in his entire view of 
life, and being a Chinese, I feel much akin to him in spirit. I discovered him only 
a few months ago, and the delight of the discovery is still fresh in my mind. I 
could translate passages of Thoreau into my own language and pass them off 
as original writing by a Chinese poet, without raising any suspicion. 



paths, amid the falling flakes. No wind, yet the musical low 
murmur through the pines, quite pronounced, curious, like 
waterfalls, now still’d, now pouring again. All the senses, 
sight, sound, smell, delicately gratified. Every snowflake lay 
where it fell on the evergreens, hollytrees, laurels, etc., the 
multitudinous leaves and branches piled, bulging-white, de- 
fined by edgelines of emerald — the tall straight columns of 
the plentiful bronze-topt pines — a slight resinous odor blend- 
ing with that of the snow. (For there is a scent to everything, 
even the snow, if you can only detect it — no two places, hardly 
any two hours, anywhere, exactly alike. How different the 
odor of noon from midnight, or winter from summer, or a 
windy spell from a still one!) 

How many of us are able to distinguish between the odors of noon 
and midnight, or of winter and summer, or of a windy spell and 
a still one? If man is so generally less happy in the cities than in 
the country, it is because all these variations and nuances of sight 
and smell and sound are less clearly marked and lost in the 
general monotony of gray walls and cement pavements. 

The Chinese and the Americans are alike when it comes to the 
true limits and capacities and qualities of the happy moments. 
Before I translate the thirty-three happy moments given by a 
Chinese scholar, I want to quote by way of comparison another 
passage from Whitman, which will show the identity of our 

A clear, crispy day — dry and breezy air, full of oxygen. Out 
of the sane, silent, beauteous miracles that envelop and fuse me 
— trees, water, grass, sunlight, and early frost — the one I am 
looking at most today is the sky. It has that delicate, trans- 
parent blue, peculiar to autumn, and the only clouds are little 
or larger white ones, giving their still and spiritual motion to 
the great concave. All through the earlier day (say from 7 to 
n) it keeps a pure, yet vivid blue. But as noon approaches the 
color gets lighter, quite gray for two or three hours — then still 
paler for a spell, till sun-down — which last I watch dazzling 
through the interstices of a knoll of big trees — darts of fire and 
a gorgeous show of light-yellow, liver-color and red, with a 



vast silver glaze askant on the water— the transparent shadows, 
shafts, sparkle, and vivid colors beyond all the paintings ever 

I don’t know what or how, but it seems to me mostly owing 
to these skies, (every now and then I think, while I have of 
course seen them every day of my life, I never really saw the 
skies before,) I have had this autumn some wondrously con- 
tented hours — may I not say perfectly happy ones? As I’ve 
read, Byron just before his death told a friend that he had 
known but three happy hours during his whole existence. 
Then there is the old German legend of the king’s bell, to the 
same point. While I was out there by the wood, that beautiful 
sunset through the trees, I thought of Byron’s and the bell 
story, and the notion started in me that I was having a happy 
hour. (Though perhaps my best moments I never jot down; 
when they come I cannot afford to break the charm by indit- 
ing memoranda. I just abandon myself to the mood, and let it 
float on, carrying me in its placid extasy) . 

What is happiness, anyhow? Is this one of its hours, or the 
like of it? — so impalpable — a mere breath, an evanescent tinge? 
I am not sure — so let me give myself the benefit of the doubt. 
Hast Thou, pellucid, in Thy azure depths, medicine for case 
like mine? (Ah, the physical shatter and troubled spirit of me 
the last three years.) And dost Thou subtly mystically now 
drip it through the air invisibly upon me? 

III. Chin’s Thirty-three FIappy Moments 

We are now better prepared to examine and appreciate the happy 
moments of a Chinese, as he describes them. Chin Shengt’an, that 
great impressionistic critic of the seventeenth century, has given 
us, between his commentaries on the play Western Chamber, an 
enumeration of the happy moments which he once counted to- 
gether with his friend, when they were shut up in a temple for ten 
days on account of rainy weather. These then are what he considers 
the truly happy moments of human life, moments in which the 
spirit is inextricably tied up with the senses: 


I 3 r 

1 2 : It is a hot day in June when the sun hangs still in the sky 

and there is not a whiff of wind or air, nor a trace of 
clouds; the front and back yards are hot like an oven and 
not a single bird dares to fly about. Perspiration flows down 
my whole body in little rivulets. There is the noon-day 
meal before me, but I cannot take it for the sheer heat. I 
ask for a mat to spread on the ground and lie down, but 
the mat is wet with moisture and flies swarm about to rest 
on my nose and refuse to be driven away. Just at this 
moment when I am completely helpless, suddenly there is 
a rumbling of thunder and big sheets of black clouds over- 
cast the sky and come majestically on like a great army 
advancing to battle. Rain water begins to pour down from 
the eaves like a cataract. The perspiration stops. The 
clamminess of the ground is gone. All flies disappear to 
hide themselves and I can eat my rice. Ah, is this not 
happiness ? 

i: A friend, one I have not seen for ten years, suddenly 

arrives at sunset. I open the door to receive him, and with- 
out asking whether he came by boat or by land, and 
without bidding him to sit down on the bed or the couch, 

I go to the inner chamber and humbly ask my wife: “Have 
you got a gallon of wine like Su Tungp’o’s wife?” My 
wife gladly takes out her gold hairpin to sell it. I calculate 
it will last us three days. Ah, is this not happiness? 

i: I am sitting alone in an empty room and I am just get- 

ting annoyed at a mouse at the head of my bed, and 
wondering what that little rustling sound signifies — what 
article of mine he is biting or what volume of my books 
he is eating up. While I am in this state of mind, and 
don’t know what to do, I suddenly see a ferocious-looking 
cat, wagging its tail and staring with its wide open eyes, as 
if it were looking at something. I hold my breath and 
wait a moment, keeping perfectly still, and suddenly with 
a little sound the mouse disappears like a whiff of wind. 
Ah, is this not happiness? 

2 When a Chinese draws up a set of seventeen or eighteen regulations, it is his 
custom (the idiom of our language) to set them down as “Articles i, i, i, i, i, i, M 



1 : I have pulled out the hait’ang and chihching 3 in front of 
my studio, and have just planted ten or twenty green 
banana trees there. Ah, is this not happiness? 

1: I am drinking with some romantic friends on a spring 

night and am just half intoxicated, finding it difficult to 
stop drinking and equally difficult to go on. An under- 
standing boy servant at the side suddenly brings in a 
package of big fire-crackers, about a dozen in number, and 
I rise from the table and go and fire them off. The smell 
of sulphur assails my nostrils and enters my brain and I 
feel comfortable all over my body. Ah, is this not 

1: I am walking in the street and see two poor rascals en- 

gaged in a hot argument of words with their faces flushed 
and their eyes staring with anger as if they were mortal 
enemies, and yet they still pretend to be ceremonious to 
each other, raising their arms and bending their waists in 
salute, and still using the most polished language of thou 
and thee and wherefore and is it not so? The flow of 
words is interminable. Suddenly there appears a big husky 
fellow swinging his arms and coming up to them, and 
with a shout tells them to disperse. Ah, is this not happi- 

1 : To hear our children recite the classics so fluently, like the 
sound of pouring water from a vase. Ah, is this not happi- 

1: Having nothing to do after a meal I go to the shops and 

take a fancy to a little thing. After bargaining for some 
time, we still haggle about a small difference, but the shop- 
boy still refuses to sell it. Then I take out a little thing 
from my sleeve, which is worth about the same thing as 
the difference and throw it at the boy. The boy suddenly 
smiles and bows courteously saying, “Oh, you are too 
generous!” Ah, is this not happiness? 

1: I have nothing to do after a meal and try to go through 

the things in some old trunks. I see there are dozens or 
hundreds of I.O.U.’s from people who owe my family 
money. Some of them are dead and some still living, but 

*Hai?ang is of the pyrus family, bearing fruits like crab-apples, and chihching 
blossoms in spring, with small violet flowers growing directly on the trunks and 


I 33 

in any case there is no hope o£ their returning the money. 
Behind people’s backs I put them together in a pile and 
make a bonfire of them, and I look up to the sky and see 
the last trace of smoke disappear. Ah, is this not happi- 

i : It is a summer day. I go bareheaded and barefooted, hold- 

ing a parasol to watch young people singing Soochow folk 
songs while treading the water wheel. The water comes up 
over the wheel in a gushing torrent like molten silver or 
melting snow. Ah, is this not happiness? 
i: I wake up in the morning and seem to hear some one in 

the house sighing and saying that last night some one died. 

I immediately ask to find out who it is, and learn that it is 
the sharpest, most calculating fellow in town. Ah, is this 
not happiness? 

i: I get up early on a summer morning and see people saw- 

ing a large bamboo pole under a mat-shed, to be used as 
a water pipe. Ah, is this not happiness? 
i : It has been raining for a whole month and I lie in bed in 

the morning like one drunk or ill, refusing to get up. Sud- 
denly I hear a chorus of birds announcing a clear day. 
Quickly I pull aside the curtain, push open the window 
and see the beautiful sun shining and glistening and the 
forest looks like having a bath. Ah, is this not happiness? 
i: At night I seem to hear some one thinking of me in the 

distance. The next day I go to call on him. I enter his door 
and look about his room and see that this person is sitting 
at his desk, facing south, reading a document. He sees me, 
nods quietly and pulls me by the sleeve to make me sit 
down, saying “Since you are here, come and look at this.” 
And we laugh and enjoy ourselves until the shadows on 
the walls have disappeared. He is feeling hungry himself 
and slowly asks me “Are you hungry, too?” Ah, is this not 

i: Without any serious intention to build a house of my 

own, I happened, nevertheless, to start building one be- 
cause a little sum had unexpectedly come my way. From 
that day on, every morning and every night I was told 
that I needed to buy timber and stone and tiles and bricks 
and mortar and nails. And I explored and exhausted every 
avenue of getting some money, all on account of this 



house, without, however, being able to live in it all this 
time, until I got sort of resigned to this state of things. One 
day, finally, the house is completed, the walls have been 
whitewashed and the floors swept clean; the paper win- 
dows have been pasted and scrolls of paintings are hung 
up on the walls. All the workmen have left, and my friends 
have arrived, sitting on different couches in order. Ah, is 
this not happiness? 

i : I am drinking on a winter’s night, and suddenly note that 

the night has turned extremely cold. I push open the win- 
dow and see that snowflakes come down the size of a palm 
and there are already three or four inches of snow on the 
ground. Ah, is this not happiness? 
i : To cut with a sharp knife a bright green watermelon on a 

big scarlet plate of a summer afternoon. Ah, is this not 
happiness ? 

i : I have long wanted to become a monk, but was worried be- 
cause I would not be permitted to eat meat. If then I 
could be permitted to become a monk and yet eat meat 
publicly, why then I would heat a basin of hot water, and 
with the help of a sharp razor shave my head clean in a 
summer month! Ah, is this not happiness? 
i : To keep three or four spots of eczema in a private part of 

my body and now and then to scald or bathe it with hot 
water behind closed doors. Ah, is this not happiness? 
i : To find accidently a handwritten letter of some old friend 

in a trunk. Ah, is this not happiness? 
i: A poor scholar comes to borrow money from me, but is 
shy about mentioning the topic, and so he allows the con- 
versation to drift along on other topics. I see his uncom- 
fortable situation, pull him aside to a place where we are 
alone and ask him how much he needs. Then I go inside 
and give him the sum and after having done this, I ask 
him : “Must you go immediately to settle this matter or can 
you stay a while and have a drink with me?” Ah, is this 
not happiness? 

i: I am sitting in a small boat. There is a beautiful wind in 

our favor, but our boat has no sails. Suddenly there appears 
a big lorcha, coming along as fast as the wind. I try to 
hook on to the lorcha in the hope of catching on to it, 
and unexpectedly the hook does catch. Then I throw over 


l 35 

a rope and we are towed along and I begin to sing the 
lines of Tu Fu: “The green makes me feel tender toward 
the peaks, and the red tells me there are oranges.” And we 
break out in joyous laughter. Ah, is this not happiness? 

i: I have been long looking for a house to share with a 

friend but have not been able to find a suitable one. Sud- 
denly some one brings the news that there is a house 
somewhere, not too big, but with only about a dozen 
rooms, and that it faces a big river with beautiful green 
trees around. I ask this man to stay for supper, and after 
the supper we go over together to have a look, having no 
idea what the house is like. Entering the gate, I see that 
there is a large vacant lot about six or seven mow, and I 
say to myself, “I shall not have to worry about the supply 
of vegetables and melons henceforth.” Ah, is this not hap- 

i: A traveller returns home after a long journey, and he sees 

the old city gate and hears the women and children on 
both banks of the river talking his own dialect. Ah, is this 
not happiness? 

i: When a good piece of old porcelain is broken, you know 

there is no hope of repairing it. The more you turn it 
about and look at it, the more you are exasperated. I then 
hand it to the cook, asking him to use it as any old vessel, 
and give orders that he shall never let that broken por- 
celain bowl come within my sight again. Ah, is this not 

i : lam not a saint, and am therefore not without sin. In the 

night I did something wrong and I get up in the morning 
and feel extremely ill at ease about it. Suddenly I remem- 
ber what is taught by Buddhism, that not to cover one’s 
sins is the same as repentance. So then I begin to tell my 
sin to the entire company around, whether they are 
strangers or my old friends. Ah, is this not happiness? 

i: To watch some one writing big characters a foot high. 
Ah, is this not happiness? 

i : To open the window and let a wasp out of the room. Ah, 

is this not happiness? 

i: A magistrate orders the beating of the drum and calls it 

a day. Ah, is this not happiness? 



1: To see some one’s kite line broken. Ah, is this not happi- 


1: To see a wild prairie fire. Ah, is this not happiness? 

1: To have just finished repaying all one’s debts. Ah, is this 
not happiness? 

1: To read the Story of Curly-Beard . 4 Ah, is this not happi- 

Poor Byron, who had only three happy hours in his life! He 
was either of a morbid and enormously unbalanced spirit, or else 
he was affecting merely the fashionable W eltschmerz of his dec- 
ade. Were the feeling of W eltschmerz not so fashionable, I feel 
bound to suspect that he must have confessed to at least thirty 
happy hours instead of three. Is it not plain from the above that 
the world is truly a feast of life spread out for us to enjoy — merely 
through the senses, and a type of culture which recognizes these 
sensual pleasures therefore makes it possible for us frankly to admit 
them? My suspicion is, the reason why we shut our eyes willfully 
to this gorgeous world, vibrating with its own sensuality, is that 
the spiritualists have made us plain scared of them. A nobler type 
of philosophy should re-establish our confidence in this fine recep- 
tive organ of ours, which we call the body, and drive away first 
the contempt and then the fear of our senses. Unless these philoso- 
phers can actually sublimate matter and etherealize our body into a 
soul without nerves, without taste, without smell, and without 
sense of color and motion and touch, and unless we are ready to 
go the whole way with the Hindu mortifiers of the flesh, let us 
face ourselves bravely as we are. For only a philosophy that recog- 
nizes reality can lead us into true happiness, and only that kind of 
philosophy is sound and healthy. 

IV. Misunderstandings of Materialism 

Chin’s description of the happy moments of his life must have 
already convinced us that in real human life, the mental and the 

4 The hero, known as “Curly-Beard,” aided the escape of a pair of eloping 
lovers, and after giving them his home in a distant city, then disappeared. 



physical pleasures are inextricably tied up together. Mental pleas- 
ures are real only when they are felt through the body. I would 
include even the moral pleasures, too. He who preaches any kind 
of doctrine must be prepared to be misunderstood, as the Epicu- 
reans and Stoics were. How often people fail to see the essential 
kindness of spirit of a Stoic, like Marcus Aurelius, and how often the 
Epicurean doctrine of wisdom and restraint has been popularly 
construed as the doctrine of the man of pleasure! It will at once 
be brought up against this somewhat materialistic view of things, 
that it is selfish, that it lacks totally a sense of social responsibility, 
that it teaches one to enjoy one’s self merely. This type of argu- 
ment proceeds from ignorance; those who use it know not what 
they are talking about. They know not the kindness of the cynic, 
not the gendeness of temper of such a lover of life. Love of 
one’s fellowmen should not be a doctrine, an article of faith, a 
matter of intellectual conviction, or a thesis supported by argu- 
ments. The love of mankind which requires reasons is no true love. 
This love should be perfectly natural, as natural for man as for the 
birds to flap their wings. It should be a direct feeling, springing 
naturally from a healthy soul, living in touch with Nature. No 
man who loves the trees truly can be cruel to animals or to his 
fellowmen. In a perfectly healthy spirit, gaining a vision of life and 
of one’s fellowmen and a true and deep knowledge of Nature, kind- 
ness is the natural thing. That soul does not require any philoso- 
phy or man-made religion to tell him to be kind. It is because his 
spirit has been properly nourished through his senses, somewhat 
detached from the artificial life and the still more artificial learn- 
ing of human society, that he is able to retain a true mental and 
moral health. We cannot, therefore, be accused of teaching un- 
selfishness when we are scratching off the earth and enlarging the 
opening from which this spring of kindness will naturally flow. 

Materialism has been misunderstood, grievously misunderstood. 
In this matter I must let George Santayana speak for us, who 
describes himself as “a materialist — perhaps the only one living,” 
and who, nevertheless, as we all know, is probably one of the 



sweetest spirits of the present generation. He tells us that our preju- 
dice against the materialistic philosophy is a prejudice of one 
looking at it from the outside. One gets a feeling of shock from 
certain deficiencies which are only apparent by comparison with 
one’s old creed. But one can truly understand any foreign creed or 
religion or country only when one enters to live in spirit in that new 
world. There is a bounce and a joy, a wholesomeness of feeling in 
this so-called “materialism” which we usually fail to see entirely. 
As Santayana tells us, the true materialist is always like Democritus, 
the laughing philosopher. It is we, the “unwilling materialists,” who 
aspire to spiritualism but nevertheless live a selfish materialistic life, 
“that have generally been awkwardly intellectual and incapable of 

But a thorough materialist, one born to the faith and not half 
plunged into it by an unexpected christening in cold water, will 
be like the superb Democritus, a laughing philosopher. His de- 
light in a mechanism that can fall into so many marvellous and 
beautiful shapes, and can generate so many exciting passions, 
should be of the same intellectual quality as that which the 
visitor feels in a museum of natural history, where he views the 
myriad butterflies in their cases, the flamingoes and shell-fish, 
the mammoths and gorillas. Doubtless there were pangs in that 
incalculable life, but they were soon over; and how splendid 
meantime was the pageant, how infinitely interesting the uni- 
versal interplay, and how foolish and inevitable those absolute 
little passions. Somewhat of that sort might be the sentiment 
that materialism would arouse in a vigorous mind, active, joy- 
ful, impersonal, and in respect to private illusions not without 
a touch of scorn. 

To the genuine sufferings of living creatures the ethics that 
accompanies materialism has never been insensible; on the con- 
trary, like other merciful systems, it has trembled too much at 
pain and tended to withdraw the will ascetically, lest the will 
should be defeated. Contempt for mortal sorrows is reserved for 
those who drive with hosannas the Juggernaut car of absolute 
optimism. But against evils born of pure vanity and self-decep- 
tion, against the verbiage by which man persuades himself that 
he is the gocd and acme of the universe, laughter is the proper 



defence. Laughter also has this subtle advantage, that it need not 
remain without an overtone of sympathy and brotherly under- 
standing; as the laughter that greets Don Quixote’s absurdities 
and misadventures does not mock the hero’s intent. His ardour 
was admirable, but the world must be known before it can be 
reformed pertinently, and happiness, to be attained, must be 
placed in reason . 5 

What then is this mental life, or this spiritual life, of which we 
have been always so proud, and which we always place above the 
life of the senses? Unfortunately modern biology has a tendency to 
track the spirit down to its lair, finding it to be a set of fibers, liquids 
and nerves. I almost believe that optimism is a fluid, or at least it is 
a condition of the nerves made possible by certain circulating fluids. 
Whence does the mental life arise, and from what does it take its 
being and derive its nourishment? Philosophers have long pointed 
out that all human knowledge comes from sensuous experience. 
We can no more attain knowledge of any kind without the senses 
of vision and touch and smell than a camera can take pictures with- 
out a lens and a sensitive plate. The difference between a clever 
man and a dull fellow is that the former has a set of finer lenses 
and perceiving apparatus by which he gets a sharper image of things 
and retains it longer. And to proceed from the knowledge of books 
to the knowledge of life, mere thinking or cogitation is not enough; 
one has to feel one’s way about — to sense things as they are and to 
get a correct impression of the myriad things in human life and 
human nature not as unrelated parts, but as a whole. In this matter 
of feeling about life and of gaining experience, all our senses coop- 
erate, and it is through the cooperation of the senses, and of the 
heart with the head, that we can have intellectual warmth. Intellec- 
tual warmth, after all, is the thing, for it is the sign of life, like the 
color of green in a plant. We detect life in one’s thought by its 
presence or absence of warmth, as we detect life in a half dried-up 
tree struggling after some unfortunate accident, by noting the green- 
ness of its leaves and the moisture and healthy texture of its fiber. 

5 From the essay on “Emotions of the Materialist,” in Little Essays of Santayana , 
edited by Logan Pearsall Smith. The italics are mine. 



V. How About Mental Pleasures? 

Let us take the supposedly higher pleasures of the mind and the 
spirit, and see to what extent they are vitally connected with our 
senses, rather than with our intellect. What are those higher spiritual 
pleasures that we distinguish from those of the lower senses? Are 
they not parts of the same thing, taking root and ending up in the 
senses, and inseparable from them? As we go over these higher 
pleasures of the mind — literature, art, music, religion and philosophy 
— we see what a minor role the intellect plays in comparison with 
the senses and feelings. What does a painting do except to give us 
a landscape or a portrait and recall in us the sensuous pleasures of 
seeing a real landscape or a beautiful face? And what does litera- 
ture do except to recreate a picture of life, to give us the at- 
mosphere and color, the fragrant smell of the pastures or the stench 
of city gutters? We all say that a novel approaches the standard of 
true literature in proportion as it gives us real people and real emo- 
tions. The book which takes us away from this human life, or 
merely coldly dissects it, is not literature and the more humanly 
true a book is, the better literature we consider it. What novel ever 
appeals to a reader if it contains only a cold analysis, if it fails to 
give us the salt and tang and flavor of life? 

As for the other things, poetry is but truth colored with emotion, 
music is sentiment without words, and religion is but wisdom ex- 
pressed in fancy. As painting is based on the sense of color and 
vision, so poetry is based on the sense of sound and tone and rhythm, 
in addition to its emotional truth. Music is pure sentiment itself, dis- 
pensing entirely with the language of words with which alone the 
intellect can operate. Music can portray for us the sounds of cowbells 
and fishmarkets and the battlefield; it can portray for us even the 
delicacy of the flowers, the undulating motion of the waves, or the 
sweet serenity of the moonlight; but the moment it steps outside the 
limit of the senses and tries to portray for us a philosophic idea, it 
must be considered decadent and the product of a decadent world. 

And did not the degeneration of religion begin with reason itself? 



As Santayana says, the process of degeneration of religion was due 
to too much reasoning: “This religion unhappily long ago ceased to 
be wisdom expressed in fancy in order to become superstition over- 
laid with reasoning.” The decay of religion is due to the pedantic 
spirit, in the invention of creeds, formulas, articles of faith, doctrines 
and apologies. We become increasingly less pious as we increasingly 
justify and rationalize our beliefs and become so sure that we are 
right. That is why every religion becomes a narrow sect, which be- 
lieves itself to have discovered the only truth. The consequence is 
that the more we justify our beliefs, the more narrow-minded we 
become, as is evident in all religious sects. This has made it possible 
for religion to be associated with the worst forms of bigotry, narrow- 
mindedness and even pure selfishness in personal life. Such a re- 
ligion nourishes a man’s selfishness not only by making it impossible 
for him to be broad-minded toward other sects, but also by turning 
the practice of religion into a private bargain between God and him- 
self, in which the party of the first part is glorified by the party of 
the second part, singing hymns and calling upon His name on every 
conceivable occasion, and in return the party of the first part is to 
bless the party of the second part, bless particularly himself more 
than any other person and his own family more than any other 
family. That is why we find selfishness of nature goes so well with 
some of the most “religious” and regularly church-going old women. 
In the end, the sense of self-justification, of having discovered the 
only truth, displaces all the finer emotions from which religion took 
its rise. 

I can see no other reason for the existence of art and poetry and 
religion except as they tend to restore in us a freshness of vision and 
a more emotional glamour and more vital sense of life. For as we 
grow older in life, our senses become gradually benumbed, our 
emotions become more callous to suffering and injustice and cruelty, 
and our vision of life is warped by too much preoccupation with 
cold, trivial realities. Fortunately, we have a few poets and artists 
who have not lost diat sharpened sensibility, that fine emotional 



response and that freshness of vision, and whose duties are therefore 
to be our moral conscience, to hold up a mirror to our blunted vis- 
ion, to tone up our withered nerves. Art should be a satire and a 
warning against our paralyzed emotions, our devitalized thinking 
and our denaturalized living. It teaches us unsophistication in a 
sophisticated world. It should restore to us health and sanity of liv- 
ing and enable us to recover from the fever and delirium caused by 
too much mental activity. It should sharpen our senses, re-establish 
the connection between our reason and our human nature, and 
assemble the ruined parts of a dislocated life again into a whole, by 
restoring our original nature. Miserable indeed is a world in which 
we have knowledge without understanding, criticism without appre- 
ciation, beauty without love, truth without passion, righteousness 
without mercy, and courtesy without a warm heart! 

As for philosophy, which is the exercise of the spirit par excellence, 
the danger is even greater that we lose the feeling of life itself. I 
can understand that such mental delights include the solution of a 
long mathematical equation, or the perception of a grand order in 
the universe. This perception of order is probably the purest of all 
our mental pleasures and yet I would exchange it for a well pre- 
pared meal. In the first place, it is in itself almost a freak, a by- 
product of our mental occupations, enjoyable because it is gratuitous, 
but not in any case as imperative for us as other vital processes. That 
intellectual delight is, after all, similar to the delight of solving a 
crossword puzzle successfully. In the second place, the philosopher 
at this moment more often than not is likely to cheat himself, to 
fall in love with this abstract perfection, and to conceive a greater 
logical perfection in the world than is really warranted by reality 
itself. It is as much a false picture of things as when we paint a star 
with five points — a reduction to formula, an artificial stylizing, an 
over-simplification. So long as we do not overdo it, this delight in 
perfection is good, but let us remind ourselves that millions of 
people can be happy without discovering this simple unity of design. 
We really can afford to live without it. I prefer talking with a col- 
ored maid to talking with a mathematician; her words are more 



concrete, her laughter is more energetic, and I generally gain more 
in knowledge of human nature by talking with her. I am such a 
materialist that at any time I would prefer pork to poetry, and 
would waive a piece of philosophy for a piece of filet, brown and 
crisp and garnished with good sauce. 

Only by placing living above thinking can we get away from this 
heat and the re-breathed air of philosophy and recapture some of the 
freshness and naturalness of true insight of the child. Any true 
philosopher ought to be ashamed of himself when he sees a child, 
or even a lion cub in a cage. How perfectly nature has fashioned 
him with his paws, his muscles, his beautiful coat of fur, his prick- 
ing ears, his bright round eyes, his agility and his sense of fun! The 
philosopher ought to be ashamed that God-made perfection has 
sometimes become man-made imperfection, ashamed that he wears 
spectacles, has no appetite, is often distressed in mind and heart, 
and is entirely unconscious of the fun in life. From this type of 
philosopher nothing is to be gained, for nothing that he says can 
be of importance to us. That philosophy alone can be of use to us 
which joins hands merrily with poetry and establishes for us a truer 
vision, first of nature and then of human nature. 

Any adequate philosophy of life must be based on the harmony 
of our given instincts. The philosopher who is too idealistic is soon 
tripped up by nature herself. The highest conception of human dig- 
nity, according to the Chinese Confucianists, is when man reaches 
ultimately his greatest height, an equal of heaven and earth, by liv- 
ing in accordance with nature. This is the doctrine given in The 
Golden Mean, written by the grandson of Confucius. 

What is God-given is called nature; to follow nature is called 
Tao 6 (the Way) ; to cultivate the Way is called culture. Before 
joy, anger, sadness and happiness are expressed, they are called 
the inner self; when they are expressed to the proper degree, 
they are called harmony. The inner self is the correct founda- 

6 There is a strong element of Taoism in Confucianism, perhaps due to the 
influence of Taoistic thought, a fact which is not usually noticed. Anyway, here this 
passage stands in one of the Confucian Four Books, and similar passages in the 
Analects can be quoted. 



tion of the world, and harmony is the illustrious Way. When a 
man has achieved the inner self and harmony, the heaven and 
earth are orderly and the myriad things are nourished and 
grow thereby. 

To arrive at understanding from being one’s true self is called 
nature, and to arrive at being one’s true self from understand- 
ing is called culture; he who is his true self has thereby under- 
standing, and he who has understanding finds thereby his true 
self. Only those who are their absolute selves in the world can 
fulfil their own nature; only those who fulfil their own nature 
can fulfil the nature of others; only those who fulfil the nature 
of others can fulfil the nature of things; those who fulfil the 
nature of things are worthy to help Mother Nature in growing 
and sustaining life; and those who are worthy to help Mother 
Nature in growing and sustaining life are the equals of heaven 
and earth. 

Chapter Seven 


I. Man the Only Working Animal 

THE feast of life is, therefore, before us, and the only question is 
what appetite we have for it. The appetite is the thing, and not the 
feast. After all, the most bewildering thing about man is his idea of 
work and the amount of work he imposes upon himself, or civiliza- 
tion has imposed upon him. All nature loafs, while man alone works 
for a living. He works because he has to, because with the progress 
of civilization life gets incredibly more complex, with duties, respon- 
sibilities, fears, inhibitions and ambitions, born not of nature, but of 
human society. While I am sitting here before my desk, a pigeon is 
flying about a church steeple before my window, not worrying what 
it is going to have for lunch. I know that my lunch is a more com- 
plicated affair than the pigeon’s, and that the few articles of food 
I take involve thousands of people at work and a highly compli- 
cated system of cultivation, merchandising, transportation, delivery 
and preparation. That is why it is harder for man to get food than 
for animals. Nevertheless, if a jungle beast were let loose in a city 
and gained some apprehension of what busy human life was all 
about, he would feel a good deal of skepticism and bewilderment 
about this human society. 

The first thought that the jungle beast would have is that man 
is the only working animal. With the exception of a few draught- 
horses or buffalos made to work a mill, even domestic pets don’t 
have to work. Police dogs are but rarely called upon to do their 
duty; a house dog supposed to watch a house plays most of the time, 
and takes a good nap in the morning whenever there is good, warm 
sunshine; the aristocratic cat certainly never works for a living, and 
gifted with a bodily agility which enables it to disregard a neigh- 
bor’s fence, it is even unconscious of its captivity — it just goes 
wherever it likes to go. So, then, we have this toiling humanity 
alone, caged and domesticated, but not fed, forced by this civiliza- 




tion and complex society to work and worry about the matter of 
feeding itself. Humanity has its own advantages, I am quite aware 
— the delights of knowledge, the pleasures of conversation and the 
joys of the imagination, as for instance in watching a stage play. 
But die essential fact remains that human life has got too compli- 
cated and the matter of merely feeding ourselves, directly or indi- 
rectly, is occupying well over ninety per cent of our human 
activities. Civilization is largely a matter of seeking food, while 
progress is that development which makes food more and more 
difficult to get. If it had not been made so difficult for man to obtain 
his food, there would be absolutely no reason why humanity should 
work so hard. The danger is that we get over-civilized and that we 
come to a point, as indeed we have already done, when the work 
of getting food is so strenuous that we lose our appetite for food in 
the process of getting it. This doesn’t seem to make very much 
sense, from the point of view either of the jungle beast or the 

Every time I see a city skyline or look over a stretch of roofs, I 
get frightened. It is positively amazing. Two or three water towers, 
the backs of two or three steel frames for billboards, perhaps a spire 
or two, and a stretch of asphalt roofing material and bricks going up 
in square, sharp, vertical outlines without any form or order, 
sprinkled with some dirty, discolored chimneys and a few wash- 
lines and criss-cross lines of radio aerials. And looking down into a 
street, I see again a stretch of gray or discolored red brick walls, 
with tiny, dark, uniform windows in uniform rows, half open and 
half hidden by shades, with perhaps a bottle of milk standing on a 
windowsill and a few pots of tiny, sickly flowers on some others. 
A child comes up to the roof with her dog and sits on the roof-stairs 
every morning to get a bit of sunshine. And as I lift my eyes again, 
I see rows upon rows of roofs, miles of them, stretching in ugly 
square outlines to the distance. More water towers, more brick 
houses. And humanity live here. How do they live, each family 
behind one or two of these dark windows? What do they do for 
a living? It is staggering. Behind every two or three windows, a 



couple go to bed every night like pigeons returning to their pigeon- 
holes; then they wake up and have their morning coffee and the 
husband emerges into the street, going somewhere to find bread for 
the family, while the wife tries persistently and desperately to drive 
out the dust and keep the little place clean. By four or five o’clock 
they come out on their doorsteps to chat with and look at their 
neighbors and get a sniff of fresh air. Then night falls, they are 
dead tired and go to sleep again. And so they live! 

There are others, more well-to-do people, living in better apart- 
ments. More “arty” rooms and lampshades. Still more orderly and 
more clean! They have a little more space, but only a little more. 
To rent a seven-room flat, not to speak of owning it, is considered 
a luxury! But it does not imply more happiness. Less financial worry 
and fewer debts to think about, it is true. But also more emotional 
complications, more divorce, more cat-husbands that don’t come 
home at night, or the couple go prowling together at night, seeking 
some form of dissipation. Diversion is the word. Good Lord, they 
need to be diverted from these monotonous, uniform brick walls 
and shining wooden floors! Of course they go to look at naked 
women. Consequently more neurasthenia, more aspirin, more ex- 
pensive illnesses, more colitis, appendicitis and dyspepsia, more 
softened brains and hardened livers, more ulcerated duodenums and 
lacerated intestines, overworked stomachs and overtaxed kidneys, 
inflamed bladders and outraged spleens, dilated hearts and shattered 
nerves, more flat chests and high blood pressure, more diabetes, 
Bright’s disease, beri-beri, rheumatism, insomnia, arterio-sclerosis, 
piles, fistulas, chronic dysentry, chronic constipation, loss of appetite 
and weariness of life. To make the picture perfect, more dogs and 
fewer children. The matter of happiness depends entirely upon the 
quality and temper of the men and women living in these ele- 
gant apartments. Some indeed have a jolly life, others simply don’t. 
But on the whole, perhaps they are less happy than the hard-work- 
ing people; they have more ennui and more boredom. But they have 
a car, and perhaps a country home. Ah, the country home, that is 
their salvation! So then, people work hard in the country so that 



they can come to the city so that they can earn sufficient money 
and go back to the country again. 

And as you take a stroll through the city, you see that back of 
the main avenue with beauty parlors and flower shops and shipping 
firms is another street with drug stores, grocery stores, hardware 
shops, barber shops, laundries, cheap eating places, news-stands. You 
wander along for an hour, and if it is a big city, you are still there; 
you see only more streets, more drug stores, grocery stores, hardware 
shops, barber shops, laundries, cheap eating places and news-stands. 
How do these people make their living? And why do they come 
here? Very simple. The laundrymen wash the clothes of the barbers 
and restaurant waiters, the restaurant waiters wait upon the laundry- 
men and barbers while they eat, and the barbers cut the hair of the 
laundrymen and waiters. That is civilization. Isn’t it amazing? I 
bet some of the laundrymen, barbers and waiters never wander 
beyond ten blocks from their place of work in their entire life. 
Thank God they have at least the movies, where they can see birds 
singing on the screen, trees growing and swaying, Turkey, Egypt, 
the Himalayas, the Andes, storms, shipwrecks, coronation ceremo- 
nies, ants, caterpillars, muskrats, a fight between lizards and scor- 
pions, hills, waves, sands, clouds, and even a moon — all on the 
screen ! 

O wise humanity, terribly wise humanity! Of thee I sing. How 
inscrutable is the civilization where men toil and work and worry 
their hair gray to get a living and forget to play! 

II. The Chinese Theory of Leisure 

The American is known as a great hustler, as the Chinese is 
known as a great loafer. And as all opposites admire each other, I 
suspect that the American hustler admires the Chinese loafer as 
much as the Chinese loafer admires the American hustler. Such 
things are called the charms of national traits. I do not know if 
eventually the West and the East will meet; the plain fact is that 
they are meeting now, and are going to meet more and more closely 



as modern civilization spreads, with the increase of communication 
facilities. At least, in China, we are not going to defy this ma- 
chine civilization, and there the problem will have to be worked 
out as to how we are going to merge these two cultures, the 
ancient Chinese philosophy of life and the modern technological 
civilization, and integrate them into a sort of working way of life. 
The question is very much more problematical as to Occidental life 
ever being invaded by Oriental philosophy, although no one would 
dare to prophesy. 

After all, the machine culture is rapidly bringing us nearer to the 
age of leisure, and man will be compelled to play more and work 
less. It is all a matter of environment, and when man finds leisure 
hanging on his hand, he will be forced to think more about the ways 
and means of wisely enjoying his leisure, conferred upon him, 
against his will, by rapidly improving methods of quick produc- 
tion. After all, no one can predict anything about the next century. 
He would be a brave man who dared even to predict about life 
thirty years from now. The constant rush for progress must certainly 
one day reach a point when man will be pretty tired of it all, and 
will begin to take stock of his conquests in the material world. I 
cannot believe that, with the coming of better material conditions 
of life, when diseases are eliminated, poverty is decreased and man’s 
expectation of life is prolonged and food is plentiful, man will care 
to be as busy as he is today. I’m not so sure that a more lazy tem- 
perament will not arise as a result of this new environment. 

Apart from all this, the subjective factor is always as important as 
the objective. Philosophy comes in as a way of changing man’s out- 
look and also changing his character. How man is going to react 
toward this machine civilization depends on what kind of a man 
he is. In the realm of biology, there are such things as sensibility to 
stimulus, slowness or quickness of reaction, and different behaviors 
of different animals in the same medium or environment. Some 
animals react more slowly than others. Even in this machine civi- 
lization, which I understand includes the United States, England, 
France, Germany, Italy and Russia, we see that different reactions 


J 5° 

toward the mechanical age arise from different racial temperaments. 
The chances of peculiar individual reactions to the same environ- 
ment are not eliminated. For China, I feel the type of life resulting 
from it will be very much like that in modern France, because the 
Chinese and the French temperaments are so akin. 

America today is most advanced in machine civilization, and it 
has always been assumed that the future of a world dominated by 
the machine will tend toward the present American type and pattern 
of life. I feel inclined to dispute this thesis, because no one knows 
yet what the American temperament is going to be. At best we can 
only describe it as a changing temperament. I do not think it at all 
impossible that there may be a revival of that period of New Eng- 
land culture so well described in Van Wyck Brooks’ new book. 
No one can say that that flowering of New England culture was not 
typically American culture, and certainly no one can say that that 
ideal Walt Whitman envisaged in his Democratic Vistas, pointing 
to the development of free men and perfect mothers, is not the ideal 
of democratic progress. America needs only to be given a little 
respite, and there may be — I am quite sure there will be — new 
Whitmans, new Thoreaus and new Lowells, when that old Ameri- 
can culture, cut short literally and figuratively by the gold rush, may 
blossom forth again. Will not, then, American temperament be 
something quite different from that of the present day, and very 
near to the temperament of Emerson and Thoreau? 

Culture, as I understand it, is essentially a product of leisure. The 
art of culture is therefore essentially the art of loafing. From the 
Chinese point of view, the man who is wisely idle is the most cul- 
tured man. For there seems to be a philosophic contradiction be- 
tween being busy and being wise. Those who are wise won’t be 
busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise. The wisest man 
is therefore he who loafs most gracefully. Here I shall try to ex- 
plain, not the technique and varieties of loafing as practised in 
China, but rather the philosophy which nourishes this divine 
desire for loafing in China and gives rise to that carefree, idle, 
happy-go-lucky — and often poetic — temperament in the Chinese 


l 5* 

scholars, and to a lesser extent, in the Chinese people in general. 
How did that Chinese temperament — that distrust of achievement 
and success and that intense love of living as such — arise? 

In the first place, the Chinese theory of leisure, as expressed by 
a comparatively unknown author of the eighteenth century, Shu 
Paihsiang, who happily achieved oblivion, is as follows: time is 
useful because it is not being used. “Leisure in time is like unoc- 
cupied floor space in a room.” Every working girl who rents a 
small room where every inch of space is fully utilized feels highly 
uncomfortable because she has no room to move about, and the 
moment she gets a raise in salary, she moves into a bigger room 
where there is a little more unused floor space, besides those strictly 
useful spaces occupied by her single bed, her dressing table and 
her two-burner gas range. It is that unoccupied space which makes 
a room habitable, as it is our leisure hours which make life en- 
durable. I understand there is a rich woman living on Park Avenue, 
who bought up a neighboring lot to prevent anybody from erect- 
ing a skyscraper next to her house. She is paying a big sum of 
money in order to have space fully and perfectly made useless, 
and it seems to me she never spent her money more wisely. 

In this connection, I might mention a personal experience. I 
could never see the beauty of skyscrapers in New York, and it 
was not until I went to Chicago that I realized that a skyscraper 
could be very imposing and very beautiful to look at, if it had a 
good frontage and at least half a mile of unused space around 
it. Chicago is fortunate in this respect, because it has more space 
than Manhattan. The tall buildings are better spaced, and there is 
the possibility of obtaining an unobstructed view of them from a 
long distance. Figuratively speaking, we, too, are so cramped in 
our life that we cannot enjoy a free perspective of the beauties of 
our spiritual life. We lack spiritual frontage. 

* 5 2 


III. The Cult of the Idle Life 

The Chinese love of leisure arises from a combination of causes. 
It came from a temperament, was erected into a literary cult, and 
found its justification in a philosophy. It grew out of an intense 
love of life, was actively sustained by an underlying current of 
literary romanticism throughout the dynasties, and was eventually 
pronounced right and sensible by a philosophy of life, which we 
may, in the main, describe as Taoistic. The rather general accept- 
ance of this Taoistic view of life is only proof that there is Tao- 
istic blood in the Chinese temperament. 

And here we must first clarify one point. The romantic cult of 
the idle life, which we have defined as a product of leisure, was 
decidedly not for the wealthy class, as we usually understand it 
to be. That would be an unmitigated error in the approach to the 
problem. It was a cult for the poor and unsuccessful and humble 
scholar who either had chosen the idle life or had idleness en- 
forced upon him. As I read Chinese literary masterpieces, and as 
I imagine the poor schoolmaster teaching the poor scholars these 
poems and essays glorifying the simple and idle life, I cannot help 
thinking that they must have derived an immense personal satis- 
faction and spiritual consolation from them. Disquisitions on the 
handicaps of fame and advantages of obscurity sounded pleasing 
to those who had failed in the civil examinations, and such sayings 
as “Eating late (with appetite whetted) is eating meat” tended to 
make the bad provider less apologetic to his family. No greater 
misjudgment of literary history is made than when the young 
Chinese proletarian writers accuse the poets Su Tungpo’s and 
T’ao Yiianming and others of belonging to the hated leisure-class 
intelligentsia — Su who sang about “the clear breeze over the stream 
and bright moon over the hills,” and T’ao who sang about “the 
dew making wet his skirt” and “a hen roosting on the top of a mul- 
berry tree.” As if the river breeze and the moon over the hills and 
the hen roosting on a mulberry tree were owned only by the capi- 
talist class! These great men of the past went beyond the stage of 


I 53 

talking about peasant conditions, and lived the life of the poor 
peasant themselves and found peace and harmony in it. 

In this sense I regard this romantic cult of the idle life as essen- 
tially democratic. We can better understand - this romantic cult 
when we picture for ourselves Laurence Sterne on his sentimental 
journey, or Wordsworth and Coleridge hiking through Europe on 
foot with a great sense of beauty in their breast, but very little 
money in their purse. There was a time when one didn’t have to 
be rich in order to travel, and even today travel doesn’t have to 
be a luxury of the rich. On the whole, the enjoyment of leisure is 
something which decidedly costs less than the enjoyment of luxury. 
All it requires is an artistic temperament which is bent on seeking 
a perfectly useless afternoon spent in a perfectly useless manner. 
The idle life really costs so very little, as Thoreau took the trouble 
to point out in Walden . 

The Chinese romanticists were, on the whole, men gifted with 
a high sensibility and a vagabond nature, poor in their worldly 
possessions, but rich in sentiment. They had an intense love of life 
which showed itself in their abhorence of all official life and a stern 
refusal to make the soul serf to the body. The idle life, so far from 
being the prerogative of the rich and powerful and successful (how 
busy the successful American men are!) was in China an achieve- 
ment of highmindedness, a highmindedness very near to the West- 
ern conception of the dignity of the tramp who is too proud to 
ask favors, too independent to go to work, and too wise to take 
the world’s successes too seriously. This highmindedness came 
from, and was inevitably associated with, a certain sense of detach- 
ment toward the drama of life; it came from the quality of being 
able to see through life’s ambitions and follies and the temptations 
of fame and wealth. Somehow the highminded scholar who valued 
his character more than his achievements, his soul more than fame 
or wealth, became by common consent the highest ideal of Chi- 
nese literature. Inevitably he was a man with great simplicity of 
living and a proud contempt for worldly success as the world 
understands it. 



Great men of letters of this class — T’ao Yiianming, Su Tungp’o, 
Po Chiiyi, Yiian Chunglang, Yiian Tsets’ai — were generally enticed 
into a short term of official life, did a wonderful job of it, and then 
got exasperated with its eternal kowtowing and receiving and send- 
ing off of fellow officials, and gladly laying down the burdens of an 
official life, returned wisely to the life of retirement. Yiian Chung- 
lang wrote seven successive petitions to his superior, when he was 
magistrate of Soochow, complaining of these eternal kowtowings, 
and begging to be allowed to return to the life of the free and care- 
less individual. 

A rather extravagant example of the praise of idleness is found 
in the inscription of another poet, Po Yiichien, written for his 
studio, which he called “The Hall of Idleness”: 

I’m too lazy to read the Taoist classics, for Tao doesn’t reside in 
the books; 

Too lazy to look over the sutras, for they go no deeper in Tao 
than its looks. 

The essence of Tao consists in a void, clear, and cool, 

But what is this void except being the whole day like a fool ? 

Too lazy am I to read poetry, for when I stop, the poetry will 
be gone; 

Too lazy to play on the ch’in, for music dies on the string 
where it’s born; 

Too lazy to drink wine, for beyond the drunkard’s dream there 
are rivers and lakes; 

Too lazy to play chess, for besides the pawns there are other 

Too lazy to look at the hills and streams, for there is a painting 
within my heart’s portals; 

Too lazy to face the wind and the moon, for within me is the 
Isle of the Immortals; 

Too lazy to attend to worldly affairs, for inside me are my hut 
and my possessions; 



Too lazy to watch the changing of the seasons, for within me 
are heavenly processions. 

Pine trees may decay and rocks may rot; but I shall always 
remain what I am. 

Is it not fitting that I call this the Hall of Idleness? 

This cult of idleness was therefore always bound up with a life 
of inner calm, a sense of carefree irresponsibility and an intense 
wholehearted enjoyment of the life of nature. Poets and scholars 
have always given themselves quaint names, like “The Guest of 
Rivers and Lakes” (Tu Fu) ; “The Recluse of the Eastern Hillside” 
(Su Tungp’o) ; the “Carefree Man of a Misty Lake”; and “The Old 
Man of the Haze-Girdled Tower,” etc. 

No, the enjoyment of an idle life doesn’t cost any money. The 
capacity for true enjoyment of idleness is lost in the moneyed class 
and can be found only among people who have a supreme contempt 
for wealth. It must come from an inner richness of the soul in a 
man who loves the simple ways of life and who is somewhat im- 
patient with the business of making money. There is always plenty 
of life to enjoy for a man who is determined to enjoy it. If men 
fail to enjoy this earthly existence we have, it is because they do 
not love life sufficiently and allow it to be turned into a humdrum 
routine existence. Laotse has been wrongly accused of being hostile 
to life; on the other hand, I think he taught the renunciation of the 
life of the world exactly because he loved life all too tenderly, to 
allow the art of living to degenerate into a mere business of living. 

For where there is love, there is jealousy; a man who loves life 
intensely must be always jealous of the few exquisite moments of 
leisure that he has. And he must retain the dignity and pride always 
characteristic of a vagabond. His hours of fishing must be as sacred 
as his hours of business, erected into a kind of religion as the 
English have done with sport. He must be as impatient at having 
people talk to him about the stock market at the golf club, as the 
scientist is at having anybody disturb him in his laboratory. And he 
must count the days of departing spring with a sense of sad regret 



for not having made more trips or excursions, as a business man 
feels when he has not sold so many wares in the day. 

IV. This Earth the Only Heaven 

A sad, poetic touch is added to this intense love of life by the 
realization that this life we have is essentially mortal. Strange 
to say, this sad awareness of our mortality makes the Chinese 
scholar’s enjoyment of life all the more keen and intense. For if 
this earthly existence is all we have, we must try the harder to 
enjoy it while it lasts. A vague hope of immortality detracts from 
our wholehearted enjoyment of this earthly existence. As Sir Arthur 
Keith puts it with a typically Chinese feeling, “For if men believe, 
as I do, that this present earth is the only heaven, they will strive 
all the more to make heaven of it.” Su Tungp’o says, “Life passes 
like a spring dream without a trace,” and that is why he clung to 
it so fondly and tenaciously. It is this sentiment of our mortal 
existence that we run across again and again in Chinese literature. 
It is this feeling of the impermanence of existence and the evanes- 
cence of life, this touch of sadness, which overtakes the Chinese 
poet and scholar always at the moment of his greatest feasting and 
merrymaking, a sadness that is expressed in the regret that “the 
moon cannot always be so round and the flowers cannot forever 
look so fair” when we are watching the full moon in the company 
of beautiful flowers. It was in that poem commemorating a gor- 
geous feast on “A Spring Night amidst Peach Blossoms” that Li 
Po penned the favorite line: “Our floating life is like a dream; how 
many times can one enjoy one’s self?” And it was in the midst of a 
gay reunion of his happy and illustrious friends that Wang Hsichih 
wrote that immortal little essay, “The Orchid Pavilion,” which gives, 
better than anything else, this typical feeling about the evanescence 
of life: 

In the ninth year of the reign Yungho [A. D. 353] in the be- 
ginning of late spring we met at the Orchid Pavilion in Shanyin 


of Kweich’i for the Water Festival, to wash away the evil 

Here are gathered all the illustrious persons and assembled 
both the old and the young. Here are tall mountains and ma- 
jestic peaks, trees with thick foliage and tall bamboos. Here are 
also clear streams and gurgling rapids, catching one’s eye from 
the right and left. We group ourselves in order, sitting by the 
waterside, and drink in succession from a cup floating down 
the curving stream; and although there is no music from 
string and wood-wind instruments, yet with alternate singing 
and drinking, we are well disposed to thoroughly enjoy a quiet 
intimate conversation. Today the sky is clear, the air is fresh 
and the kind breeze is mild. Truly enjoyable it is to watch the 
immense universe above and the myriad things below, travelling 
over the endre landscape with our eyes and allowing our senti- 
ments to roam about at will, thus exhausting the pleasures of 
the eye and the ear. 

Now when people gather together to surmise life itself, some 
sit and talk and unburden their thoughts in the intimacy of a 
room, and some, overcome by a sentiment, soar forth into a 
world beyond bodily realities. Although we select our pleasures 
according to our inclinations — some noisy and rowdy, and 
others quiet and sedate — yet when we have found that which 
pleases us, we are all happy and contented, to the extent of for- 
getting that we are growing old. And then, when satiety fol- 
lows satisfaction, and with the change of circumstances, change 
also our whims and desires, there then arises a feeling of poign- 
ant regret. In the twinkling of an eye, the objects of our for- 
mer pleasures have become things of the past, still compelling 
in us moods of regretful memory. Furthermore, although our 
lives may be long or short, eventually we all end in nothingness. 
“Great indeed are life and death” said the ancients. Ah! what 

I often study the joys and regrets of the ancient people, and 
as I lean over their writings and see that they were moved 
exactly as ourselves, I am often overcome by a feeling of sad- 
ness and compassion, and would like to make those things clear 
to myself. Well I know it is a lie to say that life and death are 
the same thing, and that longevity and early death make no 
difference! Alas! as we of the present look upon those of the 
past, so will posterity look upon our present selves. Therefore, 



have I put down a sketch of these contemporaries and their 
sayings at this feast, and although time and circumstances may 
change, the way they will evoke our moods of happiness and 
regret will remain the same. What will future readers feel 
when they cast their eyes upon this writing ! 1 

Belief in our mortality, the sense that we are eventually going 
to crack up and be extinguished like the flame of a candle, I say, 
is a gloriously fine thing. It makes us sober; it makes us a little 
sad; and many of us it makes poetic. But above all, it makes it 
possible for us to make up our mind and arrange to live sensibly, 
truthfully and always with a sense of our own limitations. It gives 
peace also, because true peace of mind comes from accepting the 
worst. Psychologically, I think, it means a release of energy. 

When Chinese poets and common people enjoy themselves, there 
is always a subconscious feeling that the joy is not going to last for- 
ever, as the Chinese often say at the end of a happy reunion, “Even 
the most gorgeous fair, with mat-sheds stretching over a thousand 
miles, must sooner or later come to an end.” The feast of life is 
the feast of Nebuchadnezzar. This feeling of the dreamlike quality 
of our existence invests the pagan with a kind of spirituality. He sees 
life essentially as a Sung landscape artist sees mountain scenery, en- 
veloped in a haze of mystery, sometimes with the air dripping with 

Deprived of immortality, the proposition of living becomes a 
simple proposition. It is this: that we human beings have a limited 
span of life to live on this earth, rarely more than seventy years, and 
that therefore we have to arrange our lives so that we may live as 
happily as we can under a given set of circumstances. Here we are on 
Confucian ground. There is something mundane, something ter- 
ribly earth-bound about it, and man proceeds to work with a dogged 

1 Incidentally, the manuscript of this essay, or rather its early rubbings, are today 
the most highly valued examples of Chinese calligraphy, because the writer and author, 
Wang Hsichih, is the acknowledged Prince of Calligraphy. For three times he 
failed to improve upon his original handwriting, and so today the script is pre- 
served to us in rubbings, with all the deletions and additions as they stood in the 
first draft. 



commonsense, very much in the spirit of what George Santayana 
calls “animal faith.” With this animal faith, taking life as it is, we 
made a shrewd guess, without Darwin’s aid as to our essential 
kinship with animals. It made us therefore, cling to life — the life 
of the instinct and the life of the senses — on the belief that, as we 
are all animals, we can be truly happy only when all our normal 
instincts are satisfied normally. This applies to the enjoyment of 
life in all its aspects. 

Are we therefore materialistic? A Chinese would hardly know 
how to answer this question. For with his spirituality based on a 
kind of material, earth-bound existence, he fails to see the distinc- 
tion between the spirit and the flesh. Undoubtedly he loves creature 
comforts, but then creature comforts are matters of the senses. It 
is only through the intellect that man attains the distinction be- 
tween the spirit and the flesh, while our senses provide the portals 
to both, as we have already seen in the preceding chapter. Music, 
undoubtedly the most spiritual of our arts, lifting man to a world of 
spirit, is based on the sense of hearing. And the Chinese fails to see 
why a sympathy of tastes in the enjoyment of food is less spiritual 
than a symphony of sounds. Only in this realistic sense, can we feel 
about the woman we love. A distinction between her soul and her 
body is impossible. For if we love a woman, we do not love her 
geometrical precision of features, but rather her ways and gestures 
in motion, her looks and smiles. But are a woman’s looks and smiles 
physical or spiritual ? No one can say. 

This feeling of the reality and spirituality of life is helped by 
Chinese humanism, in fact by the whole Chinese way of thinking 
and living. Chinese philosophy may be briefly defined as a pre- 
occupation with the knowledge of life rather than the knowledge 
of truth. Brushing aside all metaphysical speculations as irrelevant 
to the business of living, and as pale reflections engendered in our 
intellect, the Chinese philosophers clutch at life itself and ask them- 
selves the one and only eternal question: “How are we to live?” 
Philosophy in the Western sense seems to the Chinese eminently 
idle. In its preoccupation with logic, which concerns itself with 



the method of arrival at knowledge, and epistemology, which poses 
the question of the possibility of knowledge, it has forgotten to 
deal with the knowledge of life itself. That is so much tomfoolery 
and a kind of frivolity, like wooing and courtship without coming 
to marriage and the producing of children, which is as bad as hav- 
ing redcoated regiments marching in military parades without going 
to batde. The German philosophers are the most frivolous of all; 
they court truth like ardent lovers, but seldom propose to marry 

V. What is Luck? 

The peculiar contribution of Taoism to the creation of the idle 
temperament lies in the recognition that there are no such things 
as luck and adversity. The great Taoist teaching is the emphasis 
on being over doing, character over achievement, and calm over 
action. But inner calm is possible only when man is not disturbed 
by the vicissitudes of fortune. The great Taoist philosopher Liehtse 
gave the famous parable of the Old Man At the Fort: 

An Old Man was living with his Son at an abandoned fort 
on the top of a hill, and one day he lost a horse. The neighbors 
came to express their sympathy for this misfortune, and the 
Old Man asked “How do you know this is bad luck?” A few 
days afterwards, his horse returned with a number of wild 
horses, and his neighbors came again to congratulate him on 
this stroke of fortune, and the Old Man replied, “How do you 
know this is good luck?” With so many horses around, his son 
began to take to riding, and one day he broke his leg. Again 
the neighbors came around to express their sympathy, and the 
Old Man replied, “How do you know this is bad luck?” The 
next year, there was a war, and because the Old Man’s son was 
crippled, he did not have to go to the front. 

Evidently this kind of philosophy enables a man to stand a few 
hard knocks in life in the belief that there are no such things as 
hard knocks without advantages. Like medals, they always have a 
reverse side. The possibility of calm, the distaste for mere action 
and bustle, and the running away from success and achievement 



are possible with this kind of philosophy, a philosophy which says: 
Nothing matters to a man who says nothing matters . The desire 
for success is killed by the shrewd hunch that the desire for success 
means very much the same thing as the fear of failure. The greater 
success a man has made, the more he fears a climb down. The 
illusive rewards of fame are pitched against the tremendous ad- 
vantages of obscurity. From the Taoist point of view, an educated 
man is one who believes he has not succeeded when he has, but 
is not so sure he has failed when he fails, while the mark of the 
half-educated man is his assumptions that his outward successes 
and failures are absolute and real. 

Hence, the distinction between Buddhism and Taoism is this: 
the goal of the Buddhist is that he shall not want anything, while 
the goal of the Taoist is that he shall not be wanted at all. Only 
he who is not wanted by the public can be a carefree individual, and 
only he who is a carefree individual can be a happy human being. 
In this spirit Chuangtse, the greatest and most gifted among the 
Taoist philosophers, continually warns us against being too promi- 
nent, too useful and too serviceable. Pigs are killed and offered on 
the sacrificial altar when they become too fat, and beautiful birds 
are the first to be shot by the hunter for their beautiful plumage. In 
this sense, he told the parable of two men going to desecrate a tomb 
and robbing the corpse. They hammer the corpse’s forehead, break 
his cheekbones and smash his jaws, all because the dead man was 
foolish enough to be buried with a pearl in his mouth. 

The inevitable conclusion of all this philosophizing is: why not 

VI. Three American Vices 

To the Chinese, therefore, with the fine philosophy that “Nothing 
matters to a man who says nothing matters,” Americans offer a 
strange contrast. Is life really worth all the bother, to the extent 
of making our soul a slave to the body? The high spirituality of 
the philosophy of loafing forbids it. The most characteristic ad- 
vertisement I ever saw was one by an engineering firm with the big 



words: “Nearly Right Is Not Enough.” The desire for one hundred 
per cent efficiency seems almost obscene. The trouble with Ameri- 
cans is that when a thing is nearly right, they want to make it still 
better, while for a Chinese, nearly right is good enough. 

The three great American vices seem to be efficiency, punctuality 
and the desire for achievement and success. They are the things 
that make the Americans so unhappy and so nervous. They steal 
from them their inalienable right of loafing and cheat them of 
many a good, idle and beautiful afternoon. One must start out with 
a belief that there are no catastrophes in this world, and that be- 
sides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leav- 
ing things undone. On the whole, if one answers letters promptly, 
the result is about as good or as bad as if he had never answered 
them at all. After all, nothing happens, and while one may have 
missed a few good appointments, one may have also avoided a 
few unpleasant ones. Most of the letters are not worth answering, 
if you keep them in your drawer for three months; reading them 
three months afterwards, one might realize how utterly futile and 
what a waste of time it would have been to answer them all. Writ- 
ing letters really can become a vice. It turns our writers into fine 
promotion salesmen and our college professors into good efficient 
business executives. In this sense, I can understand Thoreau’s con- 
tempt for the American who always goes to the post office. 

Our quarrel is not that efficiency gets things done and very well 
done, too. I always rely on American water-taps, rather than on 
those made in China, because American water-taps do not leak. That 
is a consolation. Against the old contention, however, that we must 
all be useful, be efficient, become officials and have power, the old 
reply is that there are always enough fools left in the world who 
are willing to be useful, be busy and enjoy power, and so somehow 
the business of life can and will be carried on. The only point is 
who are the wise, the loafers or the hustlers? Our quarrel with 
efficiency is not that it gets things done, but that it is a thief of 
time when it leaves us no leisure to enjoy ourselves and that it 
frays our nerves in trying to get things done perfectly. An American 



editor worries his hair gray to see that no typographical mistakes 
appear on the pages of his magazine. The Chinese editor is wiser 
than that. He wants to leave his readers the supreme satisfaction 
of discovering a few typographical mistakes for themselves. More 
than that, a Chinese magazine can begin printing serial fiction 
and forget about it halfway. In America it might bring the roof 
down on the editors, but in China it doesn’t matter, simply because 
it doesn’t matter. American engineers in building bridges calculate 
so finely and exactly as to make the two ends come together within 
one-tenth of an inch. But when two Chinese begin to dig a tunnel 
from both sides of a mountain, both come out on the other side. 
The Chinese’s firm conviction is that it doesn’t matter so long as a 
tunnel is dug through, and if we have two instead of one, why, we 
have a double track to boot. Provided you are not in a hurry, two 
tunnels are as good as one, dug somehow, finished somehow and if 
the train can get through somehow. And the Chinese are extremely 
punctual, provided you give them plenty of time to do a thing. 
They always finish a thing on schedule, provided the schedule is 
long enough. 

The tempo of modern industrial life forbids this kind of glorious 
and magnificent idling. But worse than that, it imposes upon us 
a different conception of time as measured by the clock, and 
eventually turns the human being into a clock himself. This sort 
of thing is bound to come to China, as is evident, for instance in 
a factory of twenty thousand workers. The luxurious prospect of 
twenty thousand workers coming in at their own sweet pleasure 
at all hours is, of course, somewhat terrifying. Nevertheless, this is 
what makes life so hard and hectic. A man who has to be punc- 
tually at a certain place at five o’clock has the whole afternoon 
from one to five ruined for him already. Every American adult 
is arranging his time on the pattern of the schoolboy — three o’clock 
for this, five o’clock for that, six-thirty for change of dress; six-fifty 
for entering the taxi and seven o’clock for emerging into a hotel 
room. It just makes life not worth living. 

And Americans have now come to such a sad state that they are 



booked up not only for the following day, or the following week, 
but even for the following month. An appointment three weeks 
ahead of time is a thing unknown in China. And when a Chinese 
receives an invitation card, happily he never has to say whether 
he is going to be present or not. He can put down on the invitation 
list “coming” if he accepts, or “thanks” if he declines, but in the ma- 
jority of cases the invited party merely writes the word “know,” 
which is a statement of fact that he knows of the invitation and 
not a statement of intention. An American or a European leaving 
Shanghai can tell me that he is going to attend a committee meet- 
ing in Paris on April 19, 1938, at three o’clock and that he will be 
arriving in Vienna on May 21st by the seven o’clock train. If an 
afternoon is to be condemned and executed, must we announce 
its execution so early? Cannot a fellow travel and be lord of him- 
self, arriving when he likes and taking departure when he likes? 

But above all, the American’s inability to loaf comes directly from 
his desire for doing things and in his placing action above being. 
We should demand that there be character in our lives as we de- 
mand there be character in all great art worthy of the name. Un- 
fortunately, character is not a thing which can be manufactured 
overnight. Like the quality of mellowness in wine, it is acquired 
by standing still and by the passage of time. The desire of Ameri- 
can old men and women for action, trying in this way to gain 
their self-respect and the respect of the younger generation, is what 
makes them look so ridiculous to an Oriental. Too much action in 
an old man is like a broadcast of jazz music from a megaphone 
on top of an old cathedral. Is it not sufficient that the old people 
are something? Is it necessary that they must be forever doing 
something? The loss of the capacity for loafing is bad enough in 
men of middle age, but the same loss in old age is a crime com- 
mitted against human nature. 

Character is always associated with something old and takes 
time to grow, like the beautiful facial lines of a man in middle 
age, lines that are the steady imprint of the man’s evolving char- 
acter. It is somewhat difficult to see character in a type of life where 



every man is throwing away his last year’s car and trading it in 
for the new model. As are the things we make, so are we ourselves. 
In 1937 every man and woman look 1937, and in 1938 every man 
and woman will look 1938. We love old cathedrals, old furniture, 
old silver, old dictionaries and old prints, but we have entirely for- 
gotten about the beauty of old men. I think an appreciation of that 
kind of beauty is essential to our life, for beauty, it seems to me, is 
what is old and mellow and well-smoked. 

Sometimes a prophetic vision comes to me, a beautiful vision of 
a millennium when Manhattan will go slow, and when the Amer- 
ican “go-getter” will become an Oriental loafer. American gentle- 
men will float in skirts and slippers and amble on the sidewalks 
of Broadway with their hands in their pockets, if not with both 
hands stuck in their sleeves in the Chinese fashion. Policemen will 
exchange a word of greeting with the slow-devil at the crossings, 
and the drivers themselves will stop and accost each other and 
inquire after their grandmothers’ health in the midst of traffic. 
Some one will be brushing his teeth outside his shopfront, talking 
the while placidly with his neighbors, and once in a while, an 
absent-minded scholar will sail by with a limp volume rolled up 
and tucked away in his sleeve. Lunch counters will be abolished, 
and people will be lolling and lounging in soft, low armchairs in 
an Automat, while others will have learned the art of killing a 
whole afternoon in some cafe. A glass of orange juice will last half 
an hour, and people will learn to sip wine by slow mouthfuls, 
punctuated by delightful, chatty remarks, instead of swallowing it 
at a gulp. Registration in a hospital will be abolished, “emergency 
wards” will be unknown, and patients will exchange their philoso- 
phy with their doctors. Fire engines will proceed at a snail’s pace, 
their staff stopping on the way to gaze at and dispute over the 
number of passing wild geese in the sky. It is too bad that there 
is no hope of this kind of a millennium on Manhattan ever being 
realized. There might be so many more perfect idle afternoons. 

Chapter Eight 


I. On Getting Biological 

IT has seemed to me that the final test of any civilization is, what 
type of husbands and wives and fathers and mothers does it turn 
out? Besides the austere simplicity of such a question, every other 
achievement of civilization — art, philosophy, literature and material 
living — pales into insignificance. 

This is a dose of soothing medicine that I have always given to 
my countrymen engaged in the head-racking task of comparing 
Chinese and Western civilizations, and it has become a trick with 
me, for the medicine always works. It is natural that the Chinese 
student of Western life and learning, whether in China or studying 
abroad, is dazzled by the brilliant achievements of the West, from 
medicine, geology, astronomy to tall skyscrapers, beautiful motor 
highways and natural-color cameras. He is either enthusiastic about 
such achievements, or ashamed of China for not having made 
such achievements, or both. An inferiority complex sets in, and in 
the next moment you may find him the most arrogant, chauvin- 
istic defender of the Oriental civilization, without knowing what 
he is talking about. Probably as a gesture, he will condemn the 
tall skyscrapers and the beautiful motor highways, although I 
haven’t yet found one that condemns a good camera. His plight is 
somewhat pathetic, for that disqualifies him for judging the East 
and the West sanely and dispassionately. Perplexed and dazzled 
and harrassed by such thoughts of inferiority, he has great need 
of what the Chinese call a medicine for “calming the heart” to 
allay his fever. 

The suggestion of such a test as I propose has the strange effect 
of leveling all mankind by brushing aside all the non-essentials of 
civilization and culture and bringing all under a simple and clear 
equation. All the other achievements of civilization are then seen 
as merely means toward the end of turning out better husbands 

1 66 



and wives and fathers and mothers. Insofar as ninety per cent of 
mankind are husbands or wives and one hundred per cent have 
parents, and insofar as marriage and the home constitute the most 
intimate side of a man’s life, it is clear that that civilization which 
produces better wives and husbands and fathers and mothers makes 
for a happier human life, and is therefore a higher type of civiliza- 
tion. The quality of men and women we live with is much more 
important than the work they achieve, and every girl ought to be 
grateful for any civilization that can present her with a better 
husband. Such things are relative, and ideal husbands and wives 
and fathers and mothers are to be found in every age and country. 
Probably the best way to get good husbands and wives is by eugen- 
ics, which saves us a great deal of trouble in educating wives and 
husbands. On the other hand, a civilization which ignores the home 
or relegates it to a minor position is apt to turn out poorer products. 

I realize that I am getting biological. I am biological, and so is 
every man and woman. There is no use saying, “Let’s get biologi- 
cal,” because we are so whether we like it or not. Every man is 
happy biologically, angry biologically, or ambitious biologically, 
or religious or peace-loving biologically, although he may not be 
aware of it. As biological beings, there is no getting around the 
fact that we are all born as babies, suck at mothers’ breasts and 
marry and give birth to other babies. Every man is born of a 
woman, and almost every man lives with a woman through life and 
is the father of boys and girls, and every woman is also born of a 
woman, and almost every woman lives with a man for life and gives 
birth to other children. Some have refused to become parents, like 
trees and flowers that refuse to produce seeds to perpetuate their 
own species, but no man can refuse to have parents, as no tree can 
refuse to grow from a seed. So then we come to the basic fact that 
the most primary relationship in life is the relationship between 
man and woman and the child, and no philosophy of life can be 
called adequate or even called philosophy at all unless it deals with 
this essential relationship. 

But the mere relationship between man and woman is not suffi- 


cient; the relationship must result in babies, or it is incomplete. No 
civilization has any excuse for depriving a man or woman of his 
or her right to have babies. I understand that this is a very real 
problem at present, that there are many men and women today 
who don’t get married, and many others who, after getting married, 
refuse to have babies for one reason or another. My point of view 
is, whatever the reason may be, the fact of a man or woman leaving 
this world without children is the greatest crime he or she can 
commit against himself or herself. If sterility is due to the body, 
then the body is degenerate and wrong; if it is due to the high 
cost of living, then the high cost of living is wrong; if it is due to 
a too high standard of marriage, then the too high standard of 
marriage is wrong; if it is due to a false philosophy of individualism, 
then the philosophy of individualism is wrong; and if it is due to 
the entire fabric of social system, then the entire fabric of social 
system is wrong. Perhaps men and women of the twenty-first cen- 
tury will come to see this truth when we have made better progress 
in the science of biology and there is a better understanding of 
ourselves as biological beings. I am quite convinced that the 
twentieth century will be the century of biology, as the nineteenth 
century was the century of comparative natural science. When 
man comes to understand himself better and realizes the futility 
of warring against his own instincts, with which nature has 
endowed him, man will appreciate more such simple wisdom. We 
see already signs of this growing biological and medical wisdom, 
when we hear the Swiss psychologist Jung advise his rich women 
patients to go back to the country and raise chickens, children and 
carrots. The trouble with rich women patients is that they are 
not functioning biologically, or their biological functioning is dis- 
gracefully low-grade. 

Man has not learned to live with woman, since history began. 
The strange thing is that no man has lived without a woman, in 
spite of that fact. No man can speak disparagingly of woman if he 
realizes that no one has come into this world without a mother. 
From birth to death, he is surrounded by women, as mother, wife 



and daughters, and even if he does not marry, he has still to depend 
on his sister, like William Wordsworth, or depend on his house- 
keeper, like Herbert Spencer. No fine philosophy is going to save his 
soul if he cannot establish a proper relationship with his mother or 
his sister, and if he cannot establish a proper relationship even with 
his housekeeper, may God have pity on him! 

There is a certain pathos in a man who has not arrived at a proper 
relationship with woman and who has led a warped moral life, 
like Oscar Wilde, who still exclaims, “Man cannot live with a 
woman, nor can he live without her!” So that it seems human 
wisdom has not progressed an inch farther between the writer of 
a Hindu tale and Oscar Wilde at the beginning of the twentieth 
century, for that writer of the Hindu tale of the Creation ex- 
pressed essentially the same thought four thousand years ago. 
According to this story of the Creation, in creating woman, God 
took of the beauty of the flowers, the song of the birds, the colors 
of the rainbow, the kiss of the breeze, the laughter of the waves, 
the gentleness of the lamb, the cunning of the fox, the waywardness 
of the clouds and the fickleness of the shower, and wove them into 
a female being and presented her to man as his wife. And the 
Hindu Adam was happy and he and his wife roved about on 
the beautiful earth. After a few days, Adam came to God and said, 
“Take this woman away from me, for I cannot live with her.” 
And God listened to his request and took Eve away. Adam then 
became lonely and was still unhappy, and after a few days he came 
to God again and said, “Give me back my woman, for I cannot 
live without her.” Again God listened to his request and returned 
him Eve. After a few days again, Adam came to God and asked, 
“Please take back this Eve that Thou has created, for I swear I 
cannot live with her.” In His infinite wisdom God again consented. 
When finally Adam came a fourth time and complained that he 
could not live without his female companion, God made him 
promise that he was not going to change his mind again and that he 
was going to throw in his lot with her. for better and for worse, 

i ?o 


and live together on this earth as best they knew how. I do not 
think the picture has essentially changed much, even today. 

II. Celibacy a Freak of Civilization 

The taking of such a simple and natural biological viewpoint 
implies two conflicts, first, the conflict between individualism and 
the family, and second, a deeper conflict between the sterile philoso- 
phy of the intellect and the warmer philosophy of the instinct. For 
individualism and worship of the intellect are likely to blind a man 
to the beauties of home life, and of the two, I think the first is 
not so wicked as the second. A man believing in individualism and 
carrying it to its logical consequences can still be a very intelligent 
being, but a man believing in the cold head as against the warm 
heart is a fool. For the collectivism of the family as a social unit, 
there can be substitutes, but for the loss of the mating and paternal- 
maternal instincts, there can be none. 

We have to start with the assumption that man cannot live 
alone in this world and be happy, but must associate himself with 
a group around him and greater than himself. Man’s self is not 
limited by his bodily proportions, for there is a greater self which 
extends as far as his mental and social activities go. In whatever age 
and country and under whatever form of government, the real life 
that means anything to a man is never co-extensive with his country 
or his age, but consists in that smaller circle of his acquaintances 
and activities which we call the “greater self.” In this social unit 
he lives and moves and has his being. Such a social unit may be 
a parish, or a school, or a prison, or a business firm, or a secret 
society or a philanthropic organization. These may take the place 
of the home as a social unit, and sometimes entirely displace it. 
Religion itself or sometimes a big political movement may consume 
a man’s whole being. But of all such groups, the home remains the 
only natural and biologically real, satisfying and meaningful unit of 
our existence. It is natural because every man finds himself already 
in a home when he is born, and also because it remains with one for 


life; and it is biologically real because the blood relationship lends 
the notion of such a greater self a visible reality. One who does 
not make a success of this natural group life cannot be expected 
to make a success of life in other groups. Confucius says, “The 
young should learn to be filial in the home and respectful in society; 
they should be conscientious and honest, and love all people and 
associate with the kindly gentlemen. If after acting on these pre- 
cepts, they still have energy left, let them read boo\s ." Apart from 
the importance of this group life, man expresses and fulfils 
himself fully and reaches the highest development of his personality 
only in the harmonious complementing of a suitable member of the 
other sex. 

Woman, who has a deeper biological sense than man, knows this. 
Subconsciously all Chinese girls dream of the red wedding petticoat 
and the wedding sedan, and all Western girls dream of the wedding 
veil and wedding bells. Nature has endowed women with too 
powerful a maternal instinct for it to be easily put out of the way 
by an artificial civilization. I have no doubt that nature conceives 
of woman chiefly as a mother, even more than as a mate, and 
has endowed her with mental and moral characteristics which are 
conductive to her role as mother, and which find their true explana- 
tion and unity in the maternal instinct — realism, judgment, patience 
with details, love of the small and helpless, desire to take care of 
somebody, strong animal love and hatred, great personal and emo- 
tional bias and a generally personal outlook on things. Philosophy, 
therefore, has gone far astray when it departs from nature’s own 
conception and tries to make women happy without taking into 
account this maternal instinct which is the dominant trait and 
central explanation of her entire being. Thus with all uneducated 
and sanely educated women, the maternal instinct is never sup- 
pressed, comes to light in childhood and grows stronger and 
stronger through adolescence to maturity, while with man, the 
paternal instinct seldom becomes conscious until after thirty- 
five, or in any case until he has a son or daughter five years old. 
I do not think that a man of twenty-five ever thinks about be- 


coming a father. He merely falls in love with a girl and acciden- 
tally produces a baby and forgets all about it, while his wife’s 
thoughts are occupied with nothing else, until one day in his 
thirties he suddenly becomes aware that he has a son or daughter 
whom he can take to the market and parade before his friends, 
and only then does he begin to feel paternal. Few men of twenty 
or twenty-five are not amused at the idea of their becoming a 
father, and beyond amusement, there is little thought spent on it, 
whereas having a baby, even anticipating one, is probably the most 
serious thing that ever comes to a woman’s life and changes her 
entire being to the point of affecting a transformation of her char- 
acter and habits. The world becomes a different world for her 
when a woman becomes an expectant mother. Thenceforth she has 
no doubt whatever in her mind as to her mission in life or the 
purpose of her existence. She is wanted. She is needed. And she 
functions. I have seen the most pampered and petted only 
daughter of a rich Chinese family growing to heroic stature 
and losing sleep for months when her child was ill. In nature’s 
scheme, no such paternal instinct is necessary and none is provided 
for, for man, like the drake or the gander, has little concern over 
his offspring otherwise than contributing his part. Women, there- 
fore, suffer most psychologically when this central motive power 
of their being is not expressed and does not function. No one need 
tell me how kind American civilization is to women, when it 
permits so many nice women to go unmarried through no fault of 
their own. 

I have no doubt that the maladjustment in American marriages is 
very largely due to this discrepancy between the maternal instinct 
of women and the paternal instinct of men. The so-called “emo- 
tional immaturity” of American young men can find no other ex- 
planation than in this biological fact; the men being brought up 
under a social system of over-pampering of youth do not possess 
the natural check of responsible thinking which the girls have 
through their greater maternal instinct. It would be ruinous if 
nature did not provide women with sufficient soberness when they 


are physiologically ready to become mothers, so nature just does 
it. Sons of poor families have responsible thinking drilled into 
their system by harder circumstances, thus leaving only the pam- 
pered sons of rich families, in a nation which worships and pampers 
youth, in an ideal condition for developing into emotional and social 

After all, we are concerned only with the question: “How to 
live a happy life?” and no one’s life can be happy unless beyond 
the superficial attainments of the external life, the deeper springs 
of his or her character are touched and find a normal outlet. 
Celibacy as an ideal in the form of “personal career” carries with 
it not only an individualistic, but also a foolishly intellectualistic 
taint, and is for the latter reason to be condemned. I always suspect 
the confirmed bachelor or unmarried woman who remains so by 
choice of being an ineffectual intellectualist, too much engrossed 
with his or her own external achievements, believing that he or she 
can, as a human being, find happiness in an effective substitute for 
the home life, or find an intellectual, artistic or professional inter- 
est which is deeply satisfying. 

I deny this. This spectacle of individualism, unmarried and child- 
less, trying to find a substitute for a full and satisfying life in 
“careers” and personal achievements and preventing cruelty to ani- 
mals has struck me always as somewhat foolish and comical. It 
is psychologically symptomatic in the case of old maiden ladies 
trying to sue a circus manager for cruelty to tigers because their 
suspicion has been aroused by whipmarks on the animals’ backs. 
Their protests seem to come out of a misplaced maternal instinct, 
applied to a wrong species, as if true tigers ever thought anything 
of a little whipping. These women are vaguely groping for a place 
in life and trying very hard to make it sound convincing to them- 
selves and to others. 

The rewards of political, literary and artistic achievement produce 
in their authors only a pale, intellectual chuckle, while the rewards 
of seeing one’s own children grow up big and strong are wordless 
and immensely real. How many authors and artists are satisfied 



with their accomplishments in their old age, and how many regard 
them as more than mere products of their pastime, justifiable chiefly 
as means of earning a living? It is said that a few days before his 
death, Herbert Spencer had the eighteen volumes of The Synthetic 
Philosophy piled on his lap and, as he felt their cold weight, 
wondered if he would not have done better could he have a grand- 
child in their stead. Would not wise Elia have exchanged the 
whole lot of his essays for one of his “dream children?” It is bad 
enough to have ersatz-sugar, and ersatz- cotton, but it 
must be deplorable to have ersatz-c hildren! I do not question that 
there was a moral and aesthetic satisfaction to John D. Rockefeller 
in the feeling that he had contributed so much to human happiness 
over such a wide area. At the same time, I do not doubt that such 
a moral or aesthetic satisfaction was extremely thin and pale, easily 
upset by a stupid stroke on the golf course, and that his real, lasting 
satisfaction was John D., Jr. 

(To look at it from another aspect, happiness is largely a matter 
of finding one’s life work, the work that one loves. I question 
whether ninety per cent of the men and women occupied in a 
profession have found the work that they really love. The much 
vaunted statement, “I love my work,” I suspect, must always be 
taken with a grain of salt. One never says, “I love my home,” be- 
cause it is taken for granted. The average business man goes to 
his office in very much the same mood as Chinese women produce 
babies: everybody is doing it, and what else can I do? “I love my 
work,” so says everybody. Such a statement is a lie in the case of 
elevator men and telephone girls and dentists, and a gross exaggera- 
tion in the case of editors, real estate agents and stock brokers. 
Except for the Arctic explorer or the scientist in his laboratory, en- 
gaged in the work of discovery, I think, to li\e one’s work, finding 
it congenial, is the best we can hope for. But even allowing for 
the figure of speech, there is no comparison between one’s love of 
his work and the mother’s love of her children. Many men have 
doubts about their true vocation, and shift from one to another, but 
there is never a doubt in a mother’s mind concerning her life 


work, which is the taking care and guiding of the little ones. 
Successful politicians have thrown up politics, successful editors 
have thrown up magazine work, successful aviators have given 
up flying, successful boxers have given up the ring, and successful 
actors and actresses have given up the stage, but imagine mothers, 
successful or unsuccessful, giving up motherhood! It is unheard of. 
The mother has a feeling that she is wanted; she has found a place 
in life, and has the deep conviction that no one in the world can 
take her place, a conviction more profound than Hitler’s that he 
must save Germany. And what can give man or woman a greater, 
deeper happiness than the satisfaction of knowing he or she has a 
definite place in life? Is it not common sense to say that whereas 
less than five per cent are lucky enough to find and be engaged in 
the work they love, a hundred per cent of parents find the work of 
looking after their children the most deep and engrossing of their 
life motives ? Is it not true, therefore, that the chance of finding real 
happiness is surer and greater for a woman if she is engaged as a 
mother rather than as an architect, since nature never fails ? Is it not 
true that marriage is the best profession for women? 

My feminist readers must have sensed this all along, and bit by 
bit have begun trembling with rage as I grew more and more 
enthusiastic about the home, knowing that the cross of the home 
eventually must be borne by women. Such is exactly my intention 
and my thesis. It remains to be seen who is kinder to women, for 
it is with women’s happiness alone that we are concerned, happiness 
not in terms of social achievements, but in terms of the depths of 
personal being. Even from the point of view of fitness or competency, 
I have no doubt that there are fewer bank presidents really fit for 
their jobs than women fit for mothers. We have incompetent 
department chiefs, incompetent business managers, incompe- 
tent bankers, and incompetent presidents, but we rarely have incom- 
petent mothers. So then women are fit for motherhood, they want 
it and they know it. I understand that there has been a swing in the 
right direction away from the feminist ideal among the American 
college girls of today, that the majority of them are able to look 


at life sanely enough to say openly that they want to get married. 
The ideal woman for me is one who loves her cosmetics along 
with her mathematics, and who is more feminine than feminist. 
Let them have their cosmetics, and if they still have energy left, as 
Confucius would say, let them play with mathematics also. 

It is to be understood that we are talking of the average ideal 
of the average man and woman. There are distinguished and 
talented women as there are distinguished and talented men, whose 
creative ability accounts for the world’s real progress. If I ask the 
average woman to regard marriage as the ideal profession and to 
bear babies and perhaps also wash dishes, I also ask the average 
man to forget the arts and just earn the family bread, by cutting 
hair or shining shoes or catching thieves or tinkering pots or 
waiting at tables. Since some one has to bear the babies and take 
care of them and see them safely through measles and raise them 
to be good and wise citizens, and since men are entirely ineffectual 
in bearing babies and frightfully awkward in holding and bathing 
them, naturally I look to the women to do the job. I’m not so sure 
which is the nobler work — comparing the averages — raising babies, 
or cutting people’s hair or shining people’s shoes or opening doors 
at department stores. I don’t see why women have to complain 
about washing dishes if their husbands have to open doors for 
strangers at department stores. Men used to stand behind counters, 
and now girls have rushed in to take their place behind counters 
while the men open the doors, and they are welcome to it, if 
they think it is a nobler kind of work. Considered as a means of 
living, no work is noble and no work is ignoble. And I am not 
so sure that checking men’s hats is necessarily more romantic than 
mending husbands’ socks. The difference between the hat-check 
girl and the sock darner at home is that the sock darner has got a 
man over whose destiny it is her privilege to preside, while the hat- 
check girl hasn’t. It is to be hoped, of course, that the wearer of the 
socks is worth the woman’s labor, but it would be also unwarranted 
pessimism to lay down as a general rule that his socks are not 
worth her mending. Men are not all quite as worthless as that. The 


J 77 

important point is that the general assumption that home life, with 
its important and sacred task of raising and influencing the young 
of the race, is too low for women can hardly be called a sane social 
attitude, and it is possible only in a culture where woman and 
the home and motherhood are not sufficiendy respected. 

III. On Sex Appeal 

Behind the facade of woman’s rights and increased social privi- 
leges for women, I always think woman is not given her due even 
in modern America. Let us hope that my impression is incorrect, 
and that with the increase of woman’s rights, chivalry has not 
decreased. For the two things do not necessarily go together, chiv- 
alry or true respect for women and allowing women to spend money, 
to go where they please, to hold executive jobs and to vote. It has 
seemed to me (a citizen of the Old World with the Old World 
oudook) that there are things which matter and things which don’t, 
and that American women are far ahead of their Old World sisters 
in all things that don’t matter, and remain very much in the same 
situation in all things that do. Anyway, there is no clear index of 
a greater chivalry in America than in Europe. What real authority 
the American woman does exercise is still from her traditional old 
throne — the hearth — over which she presides as the happy minister- 
ing angel. I have seen such angels, but only in the sanctity of a 
private home, where a woman glides along in the kitchen or in the 
parlor, true mistress of a home consecrated to family love. Some- 
how she suffuses a radiance which would be unthinkable or out 
of place in an office. 

Is it merely because woman is more charming and more grace- 
ful in a chiffon dress than in a business jacket, or is it merely my 
imagination? The gist of the matter seems to lie in the fact that 
women at home are like fish in water. Clothe women in busi- 
ness jackets and men will regard them as co-workers with the right 
to cridcize, but let them float about in georgette or chiffon one 
out of the seven office hours in the day and men will give up 


any idea of competing with them, and will merely sit back and 
wonder and gasp. Submitted to business routine, women are dis- 
ciplined quite easily and make better routine workers than men, 
but the moment the office atmosphere is changed, as when as a 
business staff meet at a wedding tea, and you will find that women 
immediately come into their own by advising their men colleagues 
or their boss to get a haircut, or where to get the best lotion for 
curing dandruff. In the office, women talk with civility; outside the 
office, they talk with authority. 

Frankly speaking from a man’s point of view — there is no use 
in pretending to speak otherwise — I think that the appearance of 
women in public has added gready to the charm and amenities of 
life, life in the office and in the street, for the benefit of men; that 
voices in the offices are softer, colors gayer and the desks neater. 
I think also that not a whit of the sexual attraction or desire for 
sexual attraction provided by nature has changed, but that in 
America, men are having a grander time because American women 
are trying harder to please the men than, for instance, Chinese 
women, so far as attention to sex appeal is concerned. And my 
conclusion is that in the West, people think too much of sex and 
too little of women. 

Western women spend almost as much time fixing their hair 
as Chinese women used to do; attend to their make-up more 
openly, constantly and ubiquitously; diet, exercise, massage and 
read advertisements for keeping the figure more assiduously; kick 
their legs up and down in bed to reduce their waistline more 
religiously; lift their faces and dye their hair, at an age at which 
no Chinese women ever think of doing such a thing. They 
are spending more money, not less, on lotions and perfumes, and 
there is a bigger business in beauty aids and day creams, night creams, 
vanishing creams, foundation creams, face creams, hand creams, 
pore creams, lemon creams, sun-tan oils, wrinkle oils, turtle oils, 
and every conceivable variety of perfumed oil. Perhaps it is simply 
because American women have more time and more money to 
spend. Perhaps they dress to please men and undress to please 


1 79 

themselves, or the other way round, or both. Perhaps the reason 
is merely that Chinese women have fewer available modern beauty 
aids, for I hesitate very much to draw a distinction between races 
when it comes to woman’s desire to attract men. Chinese women 
were trying hard enough to please men by binding their own 
feet half a century ago, and now they have gayly capered their way 
from their “bow shoes” into high heels. I am not usually a prophet, 
but I can say with prophetic conviction that in the immediate 
future, Chinese women will be having their morning ten minutes 
of kicking their legs up and down in order to please their husbands 
or themselves. Yet the obvious fact is there: American women at 
present seem to be trying harder to please the men by spending 
more thought on their bodily sex appeal and dress with better 
understanding of sex appeal. The net result is that women as a 
whole, as seen in the parks and in the streets, have better figures 
and are better dressed, thanks to the continuous tremendous daily 
efforts of women to keep their figure — to the great delight of men. 
But I imagine how it must wear on their nerves. And when I 
speak of sex appeal, I mean it in contrast to motherhood appeal, or 
woman’s appeal as a whole. I suspect this phase of modern civiliza- 
tion has stamped its character on modern love and marriage. 

Art has made the modern man sex conscious. I have no doubt 
about it. First art and then commercial exploitation of the woman’s 
body, down to its last curve and muscular undulation and the 
last painted toe-nail. I have never seen every part of a woman’s 
body so completely exploited commercially, and find it hard to 
understand how American women have submitted so sweetly to this 
exploitation of their bodies. To an Oriental, it is hard to square this 
commercial exploitation of the female body with respect for women. 
Artists call it beauty, theater-goers call it art, only producers and 
managers honestly call it sex appeal, and men generally have a 
good time. It is typical of a man-made and man-ruled society that 
women are stripped for commercial exploitation and men almost 
never, outside a few acrobats. On the stage, one sees women nearly 
undressed, while the men still keep their morning coats and black 


ties; in a woman-ruled world, one would certainly see the men half 
undressed while the women kept their skirts. Artists study male 
and female anatomy equally, but somehow find it difficult to 
turn their study of the male body beautiful to commercial account. 
The theater strips to tease, but generally strips the women to tease 
the men, and does not strip the men to tease the women. Even in 
the higher-class shows, where they try to be both artistic and moral, 
people allow the women to be artistic and the men to be moral, 
but never insist on the women being moral and the men artistic. 
(All men actors in vaudeville shows merely try to be funny, even in 
dancing, which is supposed to be “artistic.”) The commercial adver- 
tisements pick up the theme and play it up in endless variations, 
so that today all a man needs to do when he wants to be “artistic” 
is to take a copy of a magazine and run through the advertising 
section. The result is, the women themselves are so impressed 
with the duty of being artistic that they unconsciously accept the 
doctrine and starve themselves or submit to massage and rigorous 
discipline, in order to contribute toward a more beautiful world. 
The less clear-minded are almost led to think that their only way 
of getting a man and holding him is by sex appeal. 

I consider that this over-emphasis on sex appeal involves an ado- 
lescent and inadequate view of the entire nature of woman, with 
certain consequences upon the character of love and marriage, 
whose conception becomes also false or inadequate. Woman is thus 
more thought of as a mating possibility than as a presiding spirit 
over the hearth. Woman is wife and mother both, but with the 
emphasis on sex as such, the notion of a mate displaces the notion 
of the mother, and I insist that woman reaches her noblest status 
only as mother, and that a wife who by choice refuses to become 
a mother immediately loses a great part of her dignity and serious- 
ness and stands in danger of becoming a plaything. To me, any 
wife without children is a mistress, and any mistress with children 
is a wife, no matter what their legal standing is. The children en- 
noble and sanctify the mistress, and the absence of children degrades 


the wife. It is a truism that many modern women refuse to have 
babies because pregnancy would spoil their figures. 

The amorous* instinct has its proper contribution to make to 
the enrichment of life, yet it can be overdone to the detriment of 
woman herself. The strain of keeping up sex appeal necessarily falls 
upon the nerves of women and not of men. It is also unfair, for by 
placing a premium upon beauty and youth, middle-aged women 
are confronted with the hopeless task of fighting their gray hair 
and time’s course. A Chinese poet has already warned us that the 
fountain of youth is a hoax, that no man can yet “tie a string to 
the sun” and hold back its course. Middle-aged woman’s effort 
to keep up sex appeal thus becomes an arduous race with the years, 
which is quite senseless. Only humor can save the situation. If 
there is no use carrying on a hopeless fight against old age and 
white hair, why then not call the white hair beautiful? So sings 
Chu Tu: 

I’ve gained white hairs, some hundreds, on my head. 

As often as they’re plucked, still more grow in their stead. 

Why not stop plucking, then, and let the white alone? 

Who has the time to fight against the silvery thread? 

The whole thing is unnatural and unfair. It is unfair to the mother 
and older women, because as surely as a heavyweight champion 
must hand over his tide in a few years to a younger challenger 
and an old champion horse must yield in a few years to a younger 
horse, so must the old women fight a losing battle against the 
younger women, and after all they are all fighting against their 
own sex. It is foolish, dangerous, and hopeless for middle-aged 
women to meet younger women on the issue of sex appeal. It is also 
foolish because there is more to a woman than her sex, and while 
wooing and courtship are necessarily largely based on physical at- 
traction, maturer men and women should have outgrown it. 

Man, we know, is the most amorous animal in the zoological 
kingdom. Besides this amorous instinct, however, there is an 
equally strong parental instinct, resulting in the human family life. 


The amorous and paternal instincts we share in common with 
most of the animals, but the beginnings of a human family life 
seem to be found among the gibbons. There is a danger, however, 
of the amorous instinct subjugating the family instinct in an over- 
sophisticated culture surrounding man with constant sexual stimuli 
in art, the movies and the theatre. In such a culture, the necessity 
of the family ideal can be easily forgotten, especially when in adi- 
tion there is a current of individualistic ideas. In such a society, 
therefore, we get a strange view of marriage, as consisting of eternal 
kissing, generally ending with the wedding bells, and a strange 
view of woman, chiefly as man’s mate and not as mother. The ideal 
woman, then, becomes a young woman with perfect physical pro- 
portions and physical charm, whereas for me, woman is never 
more beautiful than when she is standing over a cradle, never 
more serious and dignified than when she is holding a baby in 
her breast and leading a child of four or five years by the hand, 
and never more happy than, as I have seen in a Western painting, 
when she is lying in bed against a pillow and playing with a baby 
at her breast. Perhaps I have got a motherhood complex, but that 
is all right because psychological complexes never do a Chinese any 
harm. Any suggestion of an Oedipus complex or father-and-daugh- 
ter complex, or of a son-and-mother complex, in a Chinese always 
seems to me ridiculous and unconvincing. I suggest that my view 
of woman is not due to a motherhood complex, but is due to the 
influence of the Chinese family ideal. 

IV. The Chinese Family Ideal 

I rather think that the Genesis story of the Creation needs to be 
rewritten all over again. In the Chinese novel Red Chamber Dream, 
the boy hero, a sentimental mollycoddle very fond of female com- 
pany and admiring his beautiful female cousins intensely and all 
but sorry for himself for being a boy, says that, “Woman is made 
of water and man is made of clay,” the reason being that he thinks 
his female cousins are sweet and pure and clever, while he himself 


i8 3 

and his boy companions are ugly and muddle-headed and bad- 
tempered. If the writer of the Genesis story had been a Paoyii and 
knew what he was talking about, he would have written a different 
story. God took a handful of mud, molded it into human shape 
and breathed into its nostrils a breath, and there was Adam. But 
Adam began to crack and fall to pieces, and so He took some water, 
and with the water He molded the clay, and this water which 
entered into Adam’s being was called Eve, and only in having 
Eve in his being was Adam’s life complete. At least that seems to 
me to be the symbolic significance of marriage. Woman is water 
and man is clay, and water permeates and molds the clay, and the 
clay holds the water and gives its substance, in which water moves 
and lives and has its full being. 

The analogy of clay and water in human marriage was long ago 
expressed by Madame Kuan, wife of the great Yuan painter Chao 
Mengfu and herself a painter and teacher at the Imperial Court. 
When in their middle age Chao’s ardor was cooling, or anyway 
when he was thinking of taking a mistress, Madame Kuan wrote 
the following poem, which touched his heart and changed his mind : 

’Twixt you and me 
There’s too much emotion. 

That’s the reason why 
There’s such a commotion! 

Take a lump of clay, 

Wet it, pat it, 

And make an image of me, 

And an image of you. 

Then smash them, crash them, 

And add a little water. 

Break them and re-make them 
Into an image of you, 

And an image of me. 

Then in my clay, there’s a litde of you. 

And in your clay, there’s a little of me. 

And nothing ever shall us sever; 

Living, we’ll sleep in the same quilt, 

And dead, we’ll be buried together. 


It is a well-known fact that Chinese society and Chinese life are 
organized on the basis of the family system. This system deter- 
mines and colors the entire Chinese pattern of life. Whence came 
this family ideal of life? It is a question that has seldom been 
asked, for the Chinese seem to take it for granted, while foreign 
students do not feel competent to enter into the question. Confucius 
is reputed to have provided the philosophical foundation for the 
family system as the basis of all social and political life, with its 
tremendous emphasis on the husband-wife relationship as the foun- 
dation of all human relationships, on filial piety toward parents, 
annual visits to ancestral graves, ancestor worship, and the insti- 
tution of the ancestral hall. 

Chinese ancestor worship has already been called a religion by 
certain writers, and I believe this to a very great extent is correct. 
Its non-religious aspect is the exclusion or the much less significant 
place of the supernatural element. The supernatural is left almost 
untouched, and ancestor worship can go side by side with belief 
in a Christian, a Buddhist, or a Mohammedan god. The rituals 
of ancestor worship provide a form of religion and are both nat- 
ural and justifiable because all beliefs must have an outward symbol 
and form. As it is, I do not think the respect paid to square wooden 
tablets about fifteen inches long, inscribed with the names of an- 
cestors, is more religious or less so than the use of the picture of 
the King on a British postage stamp. In the first place, these an- 
cestral spirits are conceived less as gods than as human beings, 
continuing to be served as they were in their old age by their de- 
scendants. There is no prayer for gifts and no prayer for cure of 
sickness, and none of the usual bargaining between the worshiper 
and the worshiped. In the second place, this ceremony of worship is 
no more than an occasion for pious remembrance of one’s departed 
ancestors, on a day consecrated to family reunion and reflections of 
gratitude on what the ancestor has done for the family. At best, 
it is only a poor substitute for celebrating the ancestor’s birthday 
when he was alive, but in spirit it differs in no way from the celebra- 
tion of a parent’s birthday, or of Mother’s Day in America. 


The only objection which led Christian missionaries to forbid 
Chinese converts to participate in the ceremonies and communal 
feasting and merrymaking of ancestor worship is that the worshipers 
are required to kneel down before the ancestral tablets, thus infring- 
ing upon the first of the Ten Commandments. This is about the 
most flagrant instance of lack of understanding on the part of the 
Christian missionaries. Chinese knees are not quite as precious as 
Western knees, for we kneel down before emperors, magistrates and 
before our own parents on New Year’s Day, when they are living. 
Consequently Chinese knees are naturally more flexible, and one 
doesn’t become a heathen more or less by kneeling before an in- 
scribed wooden tablet, resembling a calendar block. On the other 
hand, Chinese Christians in the villages and towns are forced to 
cut themselves off from the general community life by being for- 
bidden to participate in the general feasting and merrymaking, or 
even to contribute money toward the theatrical performances usual 
on such an occasion. The Chinese Christians, therefore, practically 
excommunicate themselves from their own clan. 

There is hardly a question that, in many cases, this feeling of 
piety and of mystic obligation toward one’s own family actually 
amounted to a deeply religious attitude. We have, for instance, the 
case of Yen Yuan, one of the greatest Confucianist leaders in the 
seventeenth century, who in his old age started out on a pathetic 
journey of search for his brother, in the hope that his brother might 
be found to have a son, since he himself had none. This follower 
of Confucianism, who believed in conduct more than in knowledge, 
was living in Szechuen. His brother had been missing for years. 
Tired of teaching the doctrines of Confucius, one day he felt what 
among missionaries would be regarded as a “divine call” to search 
for this lost brother. The situation was practically hopeless. He 
had no idea where his brother might be, or even if he were living. 
Travel was a highly perilous undertaking in those days, and the 
country was in disorder because of the collapse of the Ming re- 
gime. Still this old man set out on this truly religious journey, 
with no better means of locating his brother than pasting placards 


on city gates and inns wherever he went. Thus he traveled from 
Western China to the northeastern provinces, covering over a 
thousand miles, and only after years of desperate search, was he 
brought to the home of his brother through the latter’s son recog- 
nizing his name on an umbrella left standing against a wall while 
he was in a public privy. His brother was then dead, but he 
achieved his goal, which was to find a male descendant for his 
ancestor’s family. 

Why Confucius laid such emphasis on filial piety nobody knows, 
but it has been suggested by Dr. John C. H. Wu in an illumi- 
nating essay 1 that the reason was that Confucius was born with- 
out a father. The psychological reason is therefore similar to that 
of the writer of Home, Sweet Home, who never knew a home in 
his entire life. Had Confucius’ father been living when he was a 
child, the idea of fatherhood could not have been invested with 
such romantic glamour, and if his father had been living after 
he grew up, the result might have been still more disastrous. He 
would have been able to see his father’s foibles, and he might 
have found the precept of absolute piety somewhat difficult to 
live up to. Anyway his father was dead when he was born, and 
not only that, but Confucius did not even know where his father’s 
grave was. He had been born out of wedlock, and his mother 
refused to tell him who his father was. When his mother died, 
he buried her (cynically, I suppose) at the “Road of the Five 
Fathers,” and only after he had found out the locadon of his 
father’s grave from an old woman, did he provide for the burial 
of his parents together at another place. 

We have to let this ingenious theory stand for what it is worth. 
But for the necessity of the family ideal, there is no lack of reasons 
in Chinese literature. It starts out with a view of man not as an 
individual, but as a member of a family unit, is backed by the 
view of life which I may call the “stream-of-life” theory, and 
justified by a philosophy which regards the fulfillment of man’s 
natural instincts as the ultimate goal of morals and politics. 

1 “The Real Confucius,” T'ien Hsia Monthly (Shanghai), Vol. I, No. i. 



The ideal of the family system is necessarily dead set against 
the ideal of personal individualism. No man, after all, lives as an 
individual completely alone, and the idea of such an individual has 
no reality to it. If we think of an individual and regard him as 
neither a son, nor a brother, nor a father, nor a friend, then what 
is he? Such an individual becomes a metaphysical abstraction. 
And being biologically minded as the Chinese are, they naturally 
think of a man’s biological relationships first. The family then 
becomes the natural biological unit of our existence, and marriage 
itself becomes a family affair, and not an individual affair. 

In My Country and My People, I have pointed out the evils 
of this all-engrossing family system, which can become a form of 
magnified selfishness, to the detriment of the state. But such evils 
are inherent in all human systems, in the family system, as well 
as in the individualism and nationalism of the West, because of 
defects in human nature. In China, man is always thought of as 
greater and more important than the state, but he is never thought 
of as greater and more important than the family, because, apart 
from the family, he has no real existence. The evils of nationalism 
are just as apparent in modern Europe. The state can be easily 
transformed into a monster, as it already is in some countries, 
swallowing up the individual’s liberty of speech, his freedom of 
religious conscience and belief, his personal honor, and even the 
last and final goal of individual happiness. The theoretical conse- 
quences of such a collectivistic view are quite apparent in both 
Fascism and Communism, and in fact have been already logically 
worked out by Karl Marx. A total annihilation of the parental 
instinct seems to be aimed at by the Marxian state, in which 
family affection and loyalty are openly denounced as bourgeois 
sentiments, sure to become extinct in a different material sur- 
rounding . 2 How Karl Marx was quite so cocksure about this 
point in biology, I do not know. Wise in his economics, perhaps 
he was a moron in common sense. An American schoolboy would 
have guessed that five thousand years were too short for the 

2 The Communist Manifesto- 



atrophy of an instinct which had the momentum of a million 
years of development behind it. But such an argument, strange as 
it may seem, could appeal to a Western intellect as stricdy logical. 
It is, in the words of the writer of the New Yor\ Time / “Topics,” 
“consistency gone mad.” The conception of man waging a class 
war in obedience to certain mechanistic laws naturally deprives 
man of individual freedom of belief and action. According to 
such an extreme view, therefore, we have even less individualism 
than under the family system. 

In place of this individualism and nationalism of the West, 
there is then the family ideal in which man is not regarded as an 
individual but as a member of a family and an essential part of 
the great stream of family life. That is what I mean by the 
“stream-of-life” theory. Human life as a whole may be regarded as 
consisting of different racial streams of life, but it is the stream 
of life in the family that a man feels and sees directly. In ac- 
cordance with both a Chinese and Western analogy, we speak 
of the “family tree,” and every man’s life is but a section or a 
branch of that tree, growing upon the trunk and contributing by 
its very existence to its further growth and continuation. Human 
life, therefore, is inevitably seen as a growth or a continuance, in 
which every man plays a part or a chapter in the family history, with 
its obligations toward the family as a whole, bringing upon itself 
and upon the family life shame or glory. 

This sense of family consciousness and family honor is probably 
the only form of team spirit or group consciousness in Chinese life. 
In order to play this game of life as well as, or better than, another 
team, every member of the family must be careful not to spoil 
the game, or to let his team down by making a false move. He 
should, if possible, try to bring the ball further down the field. 
A derelict son is a shame to himself and to his family in exactly 
the same sense as a quarterback who makes a fumble and loses 
the ball. And he who comes out on top in the civil examinations 
is like a player who makes a touchdown. The glory is his own 
and at the same time that of his family. The benefits of one’s be- 


coming a chuangyuan (“No. 1” in the Imperial examinations), 
or even a third-class chinshih, are both sentimentally and materi- 
ally shared by members o£ his immediate family, his relatives, 
his clan, and even his town. For a hundred or two hundred years 
afterwards, the townspeople will still boast that they produced a 
chuangyuan in such and such a reign. In comparison with the 
family and town rejoicing when a man got a chuangyiian or 
chinshih and came home to place a golden-painted tablet of honor 
high upon his ancestral hall, with his mother probably shedding 
tears and the entire clan feeling themselves honored by the great 
occasion, the getting of a college diploma today is a pretty dull 
and tame affair. 

In this picture of the family life, there is room for the greatest 
variety and color. Man himself passes through the stages of child- 
hood, youth, maturity and old age: first being taken care of by 
others, then taking care of others, and in old age again being taken 
care of by others; first obeying and respecting others, and later 
being obeyed and respected in turn in proportion as he grows 
older. Above all, color is lent to this picture by the presence of 
women. Into this picture of the continuous family life comes woman, 
not as a decoration or a plaything, nor even essentially as a wife, but 
as a vital and essential part of the family tree — the very thing 
which makes continuity possible. For the strength of any partic- 
ular branch of a family depends so much upon the woman 
married into the home and the blood she contributes to the family 
heritage. A wise patriarch is pretty careful to select women of 
sound heritage, as a gardener is careful to select the proper strain 
for grafting a branch. It is pretty well suspected that a man’s life, 
particularly his home life, is made or unmade by the wife he 
marries, and the entire character of the future family is determined 
by her. The health of one’s grandchildren and the type of family 
breeding that they are going to receive (upon which great em- 
phasis is laid) depend entirely upon the breeding of the daughter- 
in-law herself. Thus there is a kind of amorphous and ill-defined 
eugenic system, based on belief in heredity and often placing 


great emphasis on menti (literally “door and home” or lineage 
or family standing), but in any case based on standards of de- 
sirability in the health, beauty and breeding of the bride as seen 
by the eyes of the parents or grandparents of the family. In 
general, the emphasis is upon family breeding (in the same sense 
that a Westerner would choose a girl from a “good home”), 
representing the fine old traditions of thrift, hard work, good 
manners and civility. And when sometimes a parent discovers to 
his sorrow that his son has married a worthless daughter-in-law 
with no manners, he always secredy curses the other family for 
not training their daughter better. Hence upon the mother and 
father devolves the duty of training their daughters so that they 
shall not be ashamed of them when they marry into another 
household — as, for instance, when they do not know how to cook 
or how to make a good New Year pudding. 

According to the stream-of-life theory as seen in the family 
system, immortality is almost visible and touchable. Every grand- 
father seeing his grandchild going to school with a satchel feels 
that truly he is living over again in the life of the child, and 
when he touches the child’s hand or pinches his cheeks, he knows 
it is flesh of his own flesh and blood of his own blood. His own 
life is nothing but a section of the family tree, or of the great 
family stream of life flowing on forever, and therefore he is 
happy to die. That is why a Chinese parent’s greatest concern is 
to see that his sons and daughters are properly married before 
he dies, for that is an even more important concern than the site of 
his own grave or the selection of a good coffin. For he cannot 
know what kind of life his children are going to have until he 
sees with his own eyes what type of girls and men his sons and 
daughters marry, and if the daughters-in-law and sons-in-law look 
pretty satisfactory, he is quite willing to “close his eyes without 
regret” on his deathbed. 

The net result of such a conception of life is that one gets a 
lengthened outlook on everything, for life is no more regarded 
as beginning and ending with that of the individual. The game 



is continued by the team after the center or the quarterback is 
put out of action. Success and failure begin to take on a different 
complexion. The Chinese ideal of life is to live so as not to be a 
shame to one’s ancestors and to have sons of whom one need not 
be ashamed. A Chinese official when resigning office often quotes 
the line: 

Having sons, I am content with life; 

Without office, my body is light. 

The worst thing that can happen to a man, probably, is to have 
unworthy sons who cannot “maintain the family glory” or even 
the family fortune. The millionaire father of a gambling son sees 
his fortune dispersed already, the fortune that he has taken a life 
time to build up. When the son fails, the failure is absolute. On 
the other hand, a farsighted widow is able to endure years of 
misery and ignominy and even persecution, if she has a good boy 
of five. Chinese history and literature are full of such widows 
who endured all kinds of hardships and persecutions, but who 
lived for the day when their sons should do well and prosper, 
and perhaps even become prominent citizens. The latest case is 
Chiang Kai-shek himself, who as a boy was persecuted with his 
widowed mother by their neighbors. The widow did not fail so 
long as there was hope in her son. The success of widows in giv- 
ing their children a perfect education of character and morals, 
through woman’s generally more realistic sense, has often led me 
to think that fathers are totally unnecessary, so far as the up- 
bringing of children is concerned. The widow always laughs the 
loudest because she laughs last. 

Such an arrangement of life in the family then, is satisfying 
because a man’s life in all its biological aspects is well taken care 
of. That, after all, was Confucius’ chief concern. The final ideal 
of government, as Confucius conceived it, was curiously biological: 
“The old shall be made to live in peace and security, the young 
shall learn to love and be loyal, that inside the chamber there 
may be no unmarried maids, and outside the chamber there may 


be no unmarried males.” This is all the more rerr 
it is not merely a statement of a side issue, but c 
of government. This is the humanist philosoj 
tach’ing, or “fulfillment of instincts.” Confucius 
pretty sure that all our human instincts are satisfy 
thus can we have moral peace through a sati; 
because only moral peace is truly peace. It is a 1 
ideal which aims at making politics unnecessary, 
be a peace that is stable and based upon the hun 

V. On Growing Old Graceful] 

The Chinese family system, as I conceive it, i: 
rangement of particular provision for the young £ 
since childhood and youth and old age occupy ha 
is important that the young and the old live a sal 
is true that the young are more helpless and cai 
of themselves, but on the other hand, they can | 
without material comforts than the old people. I 
scarcely aware of material hardships, with the re; 
child is often as happy as, if not happier than, a 
may go barefooted, but that is a comfort, rathe 
ship to him, whereas going barefooted is often 
hardship for old people. This comes from the 
vitality, the bounce of youth. He ma^ have his ten 
but how easily he forgets them. He has no idea 
no millionaire complex, as the old man has. Al 
collects only cigar coupons for buying a pop-gu 


ruts. Therefore, strange as it may seem, old people ar< 
dependent than the young because their fears are m 
and their desires are more delimited. 

Something of this tenderness toward old age exi: 
in the primeval consciousness of the Chinese peopl 
that I can compare only to the Western chivalry an* 
tenderness toward women. If the early Chinese peoj 
chivalry, it was manifested not toward women and c 
toward the old people. That feeling of chivalry foui 
pression in Mencius in some such saying as, “The 
grey hair should not be seen carrying burdens on 
which was expressed as the final goal of a good ; 
Mencius also described the four classes of the world’s 
less people as: “The widows, widowers, orphans and 
without children.” Of these four classes the first two 
taken care of by a political economy which should be 
that there would be no unmarried men and women, 
to be done about the orphans Mencius did not say, s 
know, although orphanages have always existed thn 
ages, as well as pensions for old people. Every one re 
ever, that orphanages and old age pensions are poor su 
the home. The feeling is that the home alone can provi 
resembling a satisfactory arrangement for the old and 
But for the young, it is to be taken for granted tha 
need be said, since there is natural paternal affecti 
flows downwards and not upwards,” the Chinese alw; 
therefore the affection for parents and grandparents i: 
that stands more in need of being taught by culture 


on their deathbed, or not to be present when they died. For a 
high official in his fifties or sixties not to be able to invite his 
parents to come from their native village and stay with his family 
at the capital, “seeing them to bed every night and greeting them 
every morning,” was to commit a moral sin of which he should 
be ashamed and for which he had constantly to offer excuses and 
explanations to his friends and colleagues. This regret was ex- 
pressed in two lines by a man who returned too late to his home, 
when his parents had already died: 

The tree desires repose, but the wind will not stop; 

The son desires to serve, but his parents are already gone. 

It is to be assumed that if man were to live this life like a 
poem, he would be able to look upon the sunset of his life as his 
happiest period, and instead of trying to postpone the much feared 
old age, be able actually to look forward to it, and gradually 
build up to it as the best and happiest period of his existence. 
In my efforts to compare and contrast Eastern and Western life, 
I have found no differences that are absolute except in this mat- 
ter of the attitude towards age, which is- sharp and clearcut and 
permits of no intermediate positions. The differences in our at- 
titude towards sex, toward women, and toward work, play and 
achievement are all relative. The relationship between husband 
and wife in China is not essentially different from that in the 
West, nor even the relationship between parent and child. Not 
even the ideas of individual liberty and democracy and the re- 
lationship between the people and their ruler are, after all, so very 
different. But in the matter of our attitude toward age, the 
difference is absolute, and the East and the West take exactly 
opposite points of view. This is clearest in the matter of asking 
about a person’s age or telling one’s own. In China, the first 
question a person asks the other on an official call, after asking 
about his name and surname is, “What is your glorious age?” If 
the person replies apologetically that he is twenty-three or twenty- 
eight, the other party generally comforts him by saying that he 



has still a glorious future, and that one day he may become old. 
But if the person replies that he is thirty-five or thirty-eight, the 
other party immediately exclaims with deep respect, “Good luck!”; 
enthusiasm grows in proportion as the gentleman is able to report 
a higher and higher age, and if the person is anywhere over fifty, 
the inquirer immediately drops his voice in humility and respect. 
That is why all old people, if they can, should go and live in 
China, where even a beggar with a white beard is treated with 
extra kindness. People in middle age actually look forward to the 
time when they can celebrate their fifty-first birthday, and in the 
case of successful merchants or officials, they would celebrate even 
their forty-first birthday with great pomp and glory. But the fifty- 
first birthday, or the half-century mark, is an occasion of rejoicing 
for people of all classes. The sixty-first is a happier and grander 
occasion than the fifty-first and the seventy-first is still happier 
and grander, while a man able to celebrate his eighty-first birth- 
day is actually looked upon as one specially favored by heaven. 
The wearing of a beard becomes the special prerogative of those 
who have become grandparents, and a man doing so without the 
necessary qualifications, either of being a grandfather or being 
on the other side of fifty, stands in danger of being sneered at 
behind his back. The result is that young men try to pass them- 
selves off as older than they are by imitating the pose and dignity 
and point of view of the old people, and I have known young 
Chinese writers graduated from the middle schools, anywhere be- 
tween twenty-one and twenty-five, writing articles in the maga- 
zines to advise what “the young men ought and ought not to 
read,” and discussing the pitfalls of youth with a fatherly con- 

This desire to grow old and in any case to appear old is under- 
standable when one understands the premium generally placed 
upon old age in China. In the first place, it is a privilege of the 
old people to talk, while the young must listen and hold their 
tongue. “A young man is supposed to have ears and no mouth,” 
as a Chinese saying goes. Men of twenty are supposed to listen 


when people of thirty are talking, and these in turn are supposed 
to listen when men of forty are talking. As the desire to talk and 
to be listened to is almost universal, it is evident that the further 
along one gets in years, the better chance he has to talk and to 
be listened to when he goes about in society. It is a game of life 
in which no one is favored, for everyone has a chance of becoming 
old in his time. Thus a father lecturing his son is obliged to stop 
suddenly and change his demeanor the moment the grandmother 
opens her mouth. Of course he wishes to be in the grandmother’s 
place. And it is quite fair, for what right have the young to open 
their mouth when the old men can say, “I have crossed more 
bridges than you have crossed streets!” What right have the 
young got to talk? 

In spite of my acquaintance with Western life and the Western 
attitude toward age, I am still continually shocked by certain ex- 
pressions for which I am totally unprepared. Fresh illustrations 
of this attitude come up on every side. I have heard an old lady 
remarking that she has had several grandchildren, but, “It was the 
first one that hurt." With the full knowledge that American people 
hate to be thought of as old, one still doesn’t quite expect to have 
it put that way. I have made allowance for people in middle age 
this side of fifty, who, I can understand, wish to leave the im- 
pression that they are still active and vigorous, but I am not quite 
prepared to meet an old lady with gray hair facetiously switching 
the topic of conversation to the weather, when the conversation 
without any fault of mine naturally drifted toward her age. One 
continually forgets it when allowing an old man to enter an ele- 
vator or a car first; the habitual expression “after age” comes up 
to my lips, then I restrain myself and am at a loss for what to 
say in its place. One day, being forgetful, I blurted out the usual 
phrase in deference to an extremely dignified and charming old 
man, and the old man seated in the car turned to his wife and 
remarked jokingly to her, “This young man has the cheek to 
think that he is younger than myself!” 

The whole thing is as senseless as can be. I just don’t see the 



point. I can understand young and middle-aged unmarried women 
refusing to tell their age, because there the premium upon youth is 
entirely natural. Chinese girls, too, get a little scared when they 
reach twenty-two and are unmarried or not engaged. The years 
are slipping by mercilessly. There is a feeling of fear of being left 
out, what the Germans call a Torschlusspani\, the fear of being 
left in the park when the gates close at night. Hence it has been 
said that the longest year of a woman’s life is when she is twenty- 
nine; she remains twenty-nine for three or four or five years. But 
apart from this, the fear of letting people know one’s age is non- 
sensical. How can one be thought wise unless one is thought to be 
old? And what do the young really know about life, about mar- 
riage and about the true values? Again I can understand that the 
whole pattern of Western life places a premium on youth and 
therefore makes men and women shrink • from telling people 
their age. A perfectly efficient and vigorous woman secretary of 
forty-five is, by a curious twist of reasoning, immediately thought 
of as worthless when her age becomes known. What wonder that 
she wants to hide her age in order to keep her job? But then 
the pattern of life itself and this premium placed upon youth 
are nonsensical. There is absolutely no meaning to it, so far as I 
can see. This sort of thing is undoubtedly brought about by busi- 
ness life, for I have no doubt there must be more respect for old 
age in the home than in the office. I see no way out of it until 
the American people begin somewhat to despise work and effi- 
ciency and achievement. I suspect when an American father looks 
upon the home and not the office as his ideal place in life, and 
can openly tell people, as Chinese parents do, with absolute 
equanimity that now he has a good son taking his place and is 
honored to be fed by him, he will be anxiously looking forward 
to that happy time, and will count the years impatiendy before 
he reaches fifty. 

It seems a linguistic misfortune that hale and hearty old men in 
America tell people that they are “young,” or are told that they 
are “young” when really what is meant is that they are healthy. 


To enjoy health in old age, or to be “old and healthy,” is the 
greatest of human luck, but to call it “healthy and young” is but 
to detract from that glamour and impute imperfection to what is 
really perfect. After all, there is nothing more beautiful in this 
world than a healthy wise old man, with “ruddy cheeks and 
white hair,” talking in a soothing voice about life as one who 
knows it. The Chinese realize this, and have always pictured an 
old man with “ruddy cheeks and white hair” as the symbol of 
ultimate earthly happiness. Many Americans must have seen 
Chinese pictures of the God of Longevity, with his high forehead, 
his ruddy face, his white beard — and how he smiles! The picture 
is so vivid. He runs his fingers through the thin flowing beard 
coming down to the breast and gently strokes it in peace and 
contentment, dignified because he is surrounded with respect, 
self-assured because no one ever questions his wisdom, and kind 
because he has seen so much of human sorrow. To persons of great 
vitality, we also pay the compliment of saying that “the older they 
grow, the more vigorous they are,” and a person like David Lloyd 
George would be referred to as “Old Ginger,” because he gains 
in pungency with age. 

On the whole, I find grand old men with white beards missing 
in the American picture. I know that they exist, but they are 
perhaps in a conspiracy to hide themselves from me. Only once, 
in New Jersey, did I meet an old man with anything like a re- 
spectable beard. Perhaps it is the safety razor that has done it, a 
process as deplorable and ignorant and stupid as the deforestation 
of the Chinese hills by ignorant farmers, who have deprived 
North China of its beautiful forests and left the hills as bald and 
ugly as the American old men’s chins. There is yet a mine to be 
discovered in America, a mine of beauty and wisdom that is pleas- 
ing to the eye and thrilling to the soul, when the American has 
opened his eyes to it and starts a general program of reclamation 
and reforestation. Gone are the grand old men of America! Gone 
is Uncle Sam with his goatee, for he has taken a safety razor and 
shaved it off, to make himself look like a frivolous young fool 



with his chin sticking out instead of being drawn in gracefully, 
and a hard glint shining behind horn-rimmed spectacles. What 
a poor substitute that is for the grand old figure! My attitude on 
the Supreme Court question (although it is none of my business) 
is purely determined by my love for the face of Charles Evans 
Hughes. Is he the only grand old man left in America, or are 
there more of them? He should retire, of course, for that is only 
being kind to him, but any accusation of senility seems to me an 
intolerable insult. He has a face that we would call “a sculptor’s 

I have no doubt that the fact that the old men of America still 
insist on being so busy and active can be directly traced to in- 
dividualism carried to a foolish extent. It is their pride and their 
love of independence and their shame of being dependent upon 
their children. But among the many human rights the American 
people have provided for in their Constitution, they have strangely 
forgotten about the right to be fed by their children, for it is a 
right and an obligation growing out of service. How can any one 
deny that parents who have toiled for their children in their 
youth, have lost many a good night’s sleep when they were ill, 
have washed their diapers long before they could talk and have 
spent about a quarter of a century bringing them up and fitting 
them for life, have the right to be fed by them and loved and 
respected when they are old? Can one not forget the individual 
and his pride of self in a general scheme of home life in which 
men are justly taken care of by their parents and, having in turn 
taken care of their children, are also justly taken care of by the 
latter? The Chinese have not got the sense of individual inde- 
pendence because the whole conception of life is based upon 
mutual help within the home; hence there is no shame attached 
to the circumstance of one’s being served by his children in the 
sunset of one’s life. Rather it is considered good luck to have 
children who can take care of one. One lives for nothing else in 

In the West, the old people efface themselves and prefer to live 



alone in some hotel with a restaurant on the ground floor, out of 
consideration for their children and an entirely unselfish desire not 
to interfere in their home life. But the old people have the right 
to interfere, and if interference is unpleasant, it is nevertheless 
natural, for all life, particularly the domestic life, is a lesson in 
restraint. Parents interfere with their children anyway when they 
are young, and the logic of non-interference is already seen in the 
results of the Behaviorists, who think that all children should be 
taken away from their parents. If one cannot tolerate one’s own 
parents when they are old and comparatively helpless, parents 
who have done so much for us, whom else can one tolerate in the 
home? One has to learn self-restraint anyway, or even marriage 
will go on the rocks. And how can the personal service and de- 
votion and adoration of loving children ever be replaced by the 
best hotel waiters? 

The Chinese idea supporting this personal service to old par- 
ents is expressly defended on the sole ground of gratitude. The 
debts to one’s friends may be numbered, but the debts to one’s 
parents are beyond number. Again and again, Chinese essays on 
filial piety mention the fact of washing diapers, which takes on 
significance when one becomes a parent himself. In return, there- 
fore, is it not right that in their old age, the parents should be 
served with the best food and have their favorite dishes placed 
before them? The duties of a son serving his parents are pretty 
hard, but it is sacrilege to make a comparison between nursing 
one’s own parents and nursing a stranger in a hospital. For in- 
stance, the following are some of the duties of the junior at home, 
as prescribed by T’u Hsishih and incorporated in a book of moral in- 
struction very popular as a text in the old schools: 

In the summer months, one should, while attending to his 
parents, stand by their side and fan them, to drive away the 
heat and the flies and mosquitoes. In winter, he should see 
that the bed quilts are warm enough and the stove fire is hot 
enough, and see that it is just right by attending to it con- 
stantly. He should also see if there are holes or crevices in 


20 i 

the doors and windows, that there may be no draft, to the end 
that his parents are comfortable and happy. 

A child above ten should get up before his parents in the 
morning, and after the toilet go to their bed and ask if they 
have had a good night. If his parents have already gotten up, 
he should first curtsy to them before inquiring after their 
health, and should retire with another curtsy after the ques- 
tion. Before going to bed at night, he should prepare the bed, 
when the parents are going to sleep, and stand by until he 
sees that they have fallen off to sleep and then pull down the 
bed curtain and retire himself. 

Who, therefore, wouldn’t want to be an old man or an old father 
or grandfather in China? 

This sort of thing is being very much laughed at by the prole- 
tarian writers of China as “feudalistic,” but there is a charm to it 
which makes any old gentleman inland cling to it and think that 
modern China is going to the dogs. The important point is that 
every man grows old in time, if he lives long enough, as he cer- 
tainly desires to. If one forgets this foolish individualism which 
seems to assume that an individual can exist in the abstract and 
be literally independent, one must admit that we must so plan our 
pattern of life that the golden period lies ahead in old age and 
not behind us in youth and innocence. For if we take the reverse 
attitude, we are committed without our knowing to a race with 
the merciless course of time, forever afraid of what lies ahead of 
us — a race, it is hardly necessary to point out, which is quite hope- 
less and in which we are eventually all defeated. No one can really 
stop growing old; he can only cheat himself by not admitting that 
he is growing old. And since there is no use fighting against 
nature, one might just as well grow old gracefully. The symphony 
of life should end with a grand finale of peace and serenity and 
material comfort and spiritual contentment, and not with the 
crash of a broken drum or cracked cymbals. 

Chapter Nine 


I. On Lying in Bed 

IT seems I am destined to become a market philosopher, but it 
can’t be helped. Philosophy generally seems to be the science of 
making simple things difficult to understand, but I can conceive 
of a philosophy which is the science of making difficult things 
simple. In spite of names like “materialism,” “humanism,” “tran- 
scendentalism,” “pluralism,” and all the other longwinded “isms,” 
I contend that these systems are no deeper than my own philoso- 
phy. Life after all is made up of eating and sleeping, of meeting 
and saying good-by to friends, of reunions and farewell parties, 
of tears and laughter, of having a haircut once in two weeks, of 
watering a potted flower and watching one’s neighbor fall off his 
roof, and the dressing up of our notions concerning these simple 
phenomena of life in a kind of academic jargon is nothing but a 
trick to conceal either an extreme paucity or an extreme vagueness 
of ideas on the part of the university professors. Philosophy therefore 
has become a science by means of which we begin more and more 
to understand less and less about ourselves. What the philosophers 
have succeeded in is this: the more they talk about it, the more con- 
fused we become. 

It is amazing how few people are conscious of the importance 
of the art of lying in bed, although actually in my opinion nine- 
tenths of the world’s most important discoveries, both scientific 
and philosophical, are come upon when the scientist or philoso- 
pher is curled up in bed at two or five o’clock in the morning. 

Some people lie in the daytime and others lie at night. Now by 
“lying” I mean at the same time physical and moral lying, for 
the two happen to coincide. I find that those people who agree 
with me in believing in lying in bed as one of the greatest pleas- 
ures of life are the honest men, while those who do not believe 
in lying in bed are liars and actually lie a lot in the daytime, 




morally and physically. Those who lie in the daytime are the 
moral uplifters, kindergarten teachers and readers of Aesop’s 
Fables, while those who frankly admit with me that a man ought 
to consciously cultivate the art of lying in bed are the honest men 
who prefer to read stories without a moral like Alice in Wonder- 

Now what is the significance of lying in bed, physically and 
spiritually? Physically, it means a retreat to oneself, shut up from 
the outside world, when one assumes the physical posture most 
conducive to rest and peace and contemplation. There is a certain 
proper and luxurious way of lying in bed. Confucius, that great 
artist of life, “never lay straight” in bed “like a corpse,” but al- 
ways curled up on one side . 1 I believe one of the greatest pleasures 
of life is to curl up one’s legs in bed. The posture of the arms is 
also very important, in order to reach the greatest degree of 
aesthetic pleasure and mental power. I believe the best posture is 
not lying flat on the bed, but being upholstered with big soft 
pillows at an angle of thirty degrees with either one arm or both 
arms placed behind the back of one’s head. In this posture any 
poet can write immortal poetry, any philosopher can revelutionize 
human thought, and any scientist can make epoch-making discov- 

It is amazing how few people are aware of the value of solitude 
and contemplation. The art of lying in bed means more than 
physical rest for you, after you have gone through a strenuous 
day, and complete relaxation, after all the people you have met 
and interviewed, all the friends who have tried to crack silly 
jokes, and all your brothers and sisters who have tried to rectify 
your behavior and sponsor you into heaven have thoroughly got 
on your nerves. It is all that, I admit. But it is something more. 
If properly cultivated, it should mean a mental house-cleaning. 
Actually, many business men who pride themselves on rushing 
about in the morning and afternoon and keeping three desk 
telephones busy all the time on their desk, never realize that they 

1 Analects, Chapter X. 



could make twice the amount of money, if they would give them- 
selves one hour’s solitude awake in bed, at one o’clock in the 
morning or even at seven. What does it matter even if one stays 
in bed at eight o’clock? A thousand times better that he should 
provide himself with a good tin of cigarettes on his bedside table 
and take plenty of time to get up from bed and solve all his 
problems of the day before he brushes his teeth. There, comfortably 
stretched or curled up in his pyjamas, free from the irksome 
woolen underwear or the irritating belt or suspenders and suf- 
focating collars and heavy leather boots, when his toes are emanci- 
pated and have recovered the freedom which they inevitably lose 
in the daytime, the real business head can thinly, for only when 
one’s toes are free is his head free, and only when one’s head is 
free is real thinking possible. Thus in that comfortable position, 
he can ponder over his achievements and mistakes of yesterday 
and single out the important from the trivial in the day’s pro- 
gram ahead of him. Better that he arrived at ten o’clock in his 
office master of himself, than that he should come punctually at 
nine or even a quarter before to watch over his subordinates like 
a slave driver and then “hustle about nothing,” as the Chinese say. 

But for the thinker, the inventor and the man of ideas, lying 
quietly for an hour in bed accomplishes even more. A writer could 
get more ideas for his articles or his novel in this posture than he 
could by sitting doggedly before his desk morning and afternoon. 
For there, free from telephone calls and well-meaning visitors and 
the common trivialities of everyday life, he sees life through a glass 
or a beaded screen, as it were, and a halo of poetic fancy is cast 
around the world of realities and informs it with a magic beauty. 
There he sees life not in its rawness, but suddenly transformed 
into a picture more real than life itself, like the great paintings of 
Ni Yiinlin or Mi Fei. 

Now what actually happens in bed is this. When one is in bed 
the muscles are at rest, the circulation becomes smoother and more 
regular, respiration becomes steadier, and all the optical, auditory 
and vaso-motor nerves are more or less completly at rest, bring- 



ing about a more or less complete physical quietude, and therefore 
making mental concentration, whether on ideas or on sensations, 
more absolute. Even in respect to sensations, those of smell or hear- 
ing for example, our senses are the keenest in that moment. All 
good music should be listened to in the lying condition. Li Liweng 
said in his essay on “Willows” that one should learn to listen to the 
birds at dawn when lying in bed. What a world of beauty is wait- 
ing for us, if we learn to wake up at dawn and listen to the heav- 
enly concert of the birds! Actually there is a profusion of bird 
music in most towns, although I am sure many residents are not 
aware of it. For instance, this was what I recorded of the sounds 
I heard in Shanghai one morning: 

This morning I woke up at five after a very sound sleep 
and listened to a most gorgeous feast of sounds. What woke 
me up were the factory whistles of a great variety of pitch 
and force. After a while, I heard a distant clatter of horse’s 
hoofs; it must have been cavalry passing down Yuyuen Road; 
and in that quiet dawn it gave me more aesthetic delight than 
a Brahms symphony. Then came a few early chirps from some 
kind of birds. I am sorry I am not proficient in birdlore, but 
I enjoyed them all the same. 

There were other sounds of course — some foreigner’s “boy,” 
presumably after a night of dissipation outside, appeared at 
about half past five and began to knock at someone’s back 
door. A scavenger was then heard sweeping a neighboring 
alleyway with the swish-swash of his bamboo broom. All of 
a sudden, a wild duck, I suppose, would sail by in the sky, 
leaving echoes of his \ung-tung in the air. At twenty-five past 
six, I heard the distant rumble of the engine of the Shanghai- 
Hangchow train arriving at the Jessfield Station. There were 
one or two sounds coming from the children in their sleep 
in the next room. Life then began to stir and a distant hum of 
human activities in the near and distant neighborhood grad- 
ually increased in volume and intensity. Downstairs in the 
house itself, the servants had got up, too. Windows were being 
opened. A hook was being placed in position. A slight cough. 

A soft tread of footsteps. A clanging of cups and saucers. And 
suddenly the baby cried, “Mamma!” 


This was the natural concert I heard that morning in Shanghai. 

Throughout the whole spring that year my greatest delight was 
to listen to a kind of bird probably called a quail or partridge in 
English. Its lovecall consists of four notes {do. mi: re — : — . ti,) the 
re lasting two or three beats and ending in the middle of a beat, 
followed by an abrupt, staccato ti in the lower octave. It is the 
song I used to hear in the mountains in the south. The most beau- 
tiful part of it was that a male bird would start the call on top of 
a tree about twenty yards from my place early at dawn, and a 
female bird would counterpoint it at a distance of about a hundred 
yards. Then once in a while there would be a slight variation, a 
quickening as it were of tempo and of the bird’s heart, and the last 
staccato note would be left out. This bird-song stands out pre- 
eminently among those of others, of which there is a great pro- 
fusion. I am at a loss to describe these songs except by resort to 
musical notation, but I know they include the songs of orioles and 
magpies and woodpeckers, and the cooing of pigeons. The spar- 
rows seem to wake up later, and the reason, I suppose, must be as 
our great epicure-poet Li Liweng gave it. The other birds have to 
sing early because they are continually afraid of men’s guns and 
children’s stones during the day. These birds, therefore, can sing 
at ease only before this insufferable human species wake up from 
their sleep. As soon as men wake up, the birds can never finish 
their song at ease. But the sparrows can, because they are not 
afraid, and therefore they can sleep longer. 

II. On Sitting in Chairs 

I want to write about the philosophy of sitting in chairs because 
I have a reputation for lolling. Now there are many lollers among 
my friends and acquaintances, but somehow I have acquired a spec- 
ial reputation for lolling, at least in the Chinese literary world. I 
contend that I am not the only loller in this modern world and 
that my reputation has been greatly exaggerated. It happened like 
this. I started a magazine called the Analects Fortnightly, in which 



I consistently tried to disprove the myth of the harmfulness of 
smoking. In spite of the fact that we did not have cigarette adver- 
tisements in our magazine, I wrote and published essay after essay 
praising the virtues of Lady Nicotine. Somehow, therefore, a legend 
developed that I was a man doing nothing the whole day but lolling 
idly on a sofa smoking a cigar, and in spite of my disclaimers and my 
protests that I am one of the hardest working men in China, the 
legend had got about and was constantly used as an evidence of my 
belonging to the hateful leisure-class intelligentsia. Two years after, 
the situation was aggravated by the fact that I started another maga- 
zine devoted to the familiar essay. Bored stiff by the dilatory, hypo- 
critical and pompous style of Chinese editorials, which is the result 
of the method of teaching school composition a generation ago, 
making young boys of twelve or thirteen write essays on “The Sal- 
vation of the Country” and “The Virtue of Persistence,” I saw 
that the introduction of a more familiar style of writing was the 
means of emancipating Chinese prose from the straitjacket of Con- 
fucian platitudes. It happened, however, that I translated the phrase 
“familiar style” by a Chinese phrase meaning “leisurely style.” This 
was a signal for attack from the Communist camp, and now I have 
the indisputable reputation of being the most leisurely of all leisurely 
writers in China and therefore the most unforgivable, “while we 
are living in this period of national humiliation.” 

I admit that I do loll about in my friends’ drawing-rooms, but 
so do the others. What are armchairs for anyway, except for people 
to loll in? If gentlemen and ladies of the twentieth century were 
supposed to sit upright all the time with absolute dignity, there 
should be no armchairs at all in the modern drawing-room, but we 
should all be sitting on stiff redwood furniture, with most ladies’ 
feet dangling about a foot from the ground. 

In other words, there is a philosophy about lolling in chairs. The 
mention of the word “dignity” explains exactly the origin of the 
difference in the styles of sitting between the ancient and the mod- 
ern people. The ancient people sat in order to look dignified, while 
modern people sit in order to be comfortable. There is a philosophic 



conflict between the two, for, according to ancient notions only half 
a century ago, comfort was a sin, and to be comfortable was to be 
disrespectfull Aldous Huxley has made this sufficiendy plain in his 
essay on “Comfort.” The feudalistic society which made the rise of 
the armchair impossible until modern days, as described by Huxley, 
was exactly the same as that which existed in China up to a genera- 
tion ago. Today any man who calls himself another’s friend must 
not be afraid to put his legs on top of a desk in his friend’s room, 
and we take that as a sign of familiarity instead of disrespect, al- 
though to put one’s legs on top of a desk in the presence of a mem- 
ber of the older generation would be a different matter. 

There is a closer relationship between morals and architecture and 
interior decoration than we suspect. Huxley has pointed out that 
Western ladies did not take frequent baths because they were afraid 
to see their own naked bodies, and this moral concept delayed the 
rise of the modern white-enameled bathtub for centuries. One can 
understand why in the design of old Chinese furniture there was so 
little consideration for human comfort only when we realize the 
Confucian atmosphere in which people moved about. Chinese red- 
wood furniture was designed for people to sit upright in, because 
that was the only posture approved by society. Even Chinese em- 
perors had to sit on a throne on which I would not think of remain- 
ing for more than five minutes, and for that matter the English 
kings were just as badly off. Cleopatra went about inclining on a 
couch carried by servants, because apparently she had never heard 
of Confucius. If Confucius should have seen her doing that, he would 
certainly have “struck her shin with a stick,” as he did to one of his 
old disciples, Yuan Jang, when the latter was found sitting in an 
incorrect posture. In the Confucian society in which we lived, gentle- 
men and ladies had to hold themselves perfectly erect, at least on 
formal occasions, and any sign of putting one’s leg up would be at 
once construed as a sign of vulgarity and lack of culture. In fact, 
to show extra respect, as when seeing official superiors, one had to 
sit gingerly on the edge of a chair at an oblique angle, which was 
a sign of respect and of the height of culture. There is also a close 



connection between the Confucian tradition and the discomforts of 
Chinese architecture, but we will not go into that now. 

Thanks to the romantic movement in the later eighteenth and 
earlier nineteenth centuries, this tradition of classical decorum has 
broken down, and to be comfortable is no longer a sin. On the other 
hand, a more truthful attitude towards life has taken its place, due 
as much to the romantic movement as to a better understanding of 
human psychology. The same change of attitude which has ceased 
to regard theatrical amusements as immoral and Shakespeare as a 
“barbarian,” has also made possible the evolution of ladies’ bathing 
costumes, clean bathtubs and comfortable armchairs and divans, 
and of a more truthful and at the same time intimate style of living 
and writing. In this sense, there is a true connection between my 
habit of lolling on a sofa and my attempt to introduce a more inti- 
mate and free and easy writing into modern Chinese journalism. 

If we admit that comfort is not a sin, then we must also admit 
that the more comfortably a man arranges himself in an armchair 
in a friend’s drawing-room, the greater respect he is showing to his 
host. After all, to make oneself at home and look restful is only to 
help one’s host or hostess succeed in the difficult art of hospitality. 
How many hostesses have feared and trembled for an evening party 
in which the guests are not willing to loosen up and just be them- 
selves. I have always helped my hosts and hostesses by putting a leg 
up on top of a tea table or whatever happened to be the nearest 
object, and in that way forced everybody else to throw away the 
cloak of false dignity. 

Now I have discovered a formula regarding the comparative com- 
fort of furniture. This formula may be stated in very simple terms : 
the lower a chair is, the more comfortable it becomes. Many people 
have sat down on a certain chair in a friend’s home and wondered 
why it is so cozy. Before the discovery of this formula, I used to 
think that students of interior decoration probably had a mathe- 
matical formula for the proportion between height and width and 
angle of inclination of chairs which conduced to the maximum com- 
fort of sitters. Since the discovery of this formula, I have found that 



it is simpler than that. Take any Chinese redwood furniture and 
saw off its legs a few inches, and it immediately becomes more 
comfortable; and if you saw off another few inches, then it becomes 
still more comfortable. The logical conclusion of this is, of course, 
that one is most comfortable when one is lying perfectly flat on a 
bed. The matter is as simple as that. 

From this fundamental principle, we may derive the corollary 
that when we find ourselves sitting in a chair that is too high and 
can’t saw its legs off, all we have to do is seek some object in the 
foreground on which we can rest our legs and therefore theoretically 
decrease the difference between the levels of our hips and our feet. 
One of the commonest devices that I use is to pull out a drawer in 
my desk and put my feet on it. But the intelligent application of 
this corollary I can leave to everybody’s common sense. 

To correct any misunderstanding that I am lolling all the time 
for sixteen waking hours of the day, I must hasten to explain that I 
am capable of sitting doggedly at a desk or in front of a typewriter 
for three hours. Just because I wish to make it clear that relaxation 
of our muscles is not necessarily a crime, I do not mean that we 
should keep our muscles relaxed all the time, or that this is the most 
hygienic posture to be assumed all the time. That is far from my 
intention. After all human life goes in cycles of work and play, of 
tension and relaxation. The male brain energy and capacity for 
work goes in monthly cycles just like women’s bodies. William 
James said that when the chains of a bicycle are kept too tight, 
they are not conducive to the easiest running, and so with the human 
mind. Everything, after all, is a matter of habit. There is an infinite 
capacity in the human body for adjustments. Japanese who have the 
habit of sitting with crossed legs on the floor are liable to get cramps, 
I suspect, when they are made to sit on chairs. Only by alternating 
between the absolutely erect working posture of office hours and the 
posture of stretching ourselves on a sofa after a hard day’s work can 
we achieve that highest wisdom of living. 

A word to the ladies: when there is nothing in the immediate 
foreground on which you can rest your feet, you can always curl 


21 1 

up your legs on a sofa. You never look more charming than when 
you are in that attitude. 

III. On Conversation 

“Talking with you for one night is better than studying books for 
ten years,” — this was the comment of an old Chinese scholar after he 
had had a conversation with another friend. There is much truth in 
that statement, and today the phrase “a night’s talk” has become a 
current expression for a happy conversation with a friend at night, 
either past or anticipated. There are two or three books which 
resemble an English “week-end omnibus,” bearing the title A Night’s 
Tal\, or A Night’s Tal\ in the Mountains. Such a supreme pleasure 
as a perfect conversation with a friend at night is necessarily rare, 
for as Li Liweng has pointed out, those who are wise seldom know 
how to talk, and those who talk are seldom wise. The discovery of a 
man up in a mountain temple, who really understands life and at 
the same time understands the art of conversation, must therefore be 
one of the keenest pleasures, like the discovery of a new planet by an 
astronomer or of a new variety of plant by a botanist. 

People today are complaining that the art of conversation around 
a fireplace or on cracker barrels is becoming lost, owing to the tempo 
of business life today. I am quite sure that this tempo has something 
to do with it, but believe also that the distortion of the home into an 
apartment without a log fire began the destruction of the art of 
conversation, and the influence of the motor car completed it. The 
tempo is entirely wrong, for conversation exists only in a society of 
men imbued in the spirit of leisure, with its ease, its humor, and 
its appreciation of light nuances. For there is an evident distinction 
between mere talking and conversation as such. This distinction is 
made in the Chinese language between shuohua (speaking) and 
t’anhua (conversation), which implies the discourse is more chatty 
and leisurely and the topics of conversation are more trivial and less 
business-like. A similar difference may be noted between business 
correspondence and the letters of literary friends. We can speak or 



discuss business with almost any person, but there are very few peo- 
ple with whom we can truly hold a night’s conversation. Hence, 
when we do find a true conversationalist, the pleasure is equal to, if 
not above, that of reading a delightful author, with the additional 
pleasure of hearing his voice and seeing his gestures. Sometimes we 
find it at the happy reunion of old friends, or among acquaintances 
indulging in reminiscences, sometimes in the smoking room of a 
night train, and sometimes at an inn on a distant journey. There will 
be chats about ghosts and fox-spirits, mixed with amusing tales or 
impassioned comments on dictators and traitors, and sometimes be- 
fore we know it, light is shown by a wise observer and conversation- 
alist on things taking place in a certain country which are a 
premonition of the impending collapse or change in a regime. Such 
conversations remain among the memories that we cherish for life. 

Of course, night is the best time for conversation, because there is 
a certain lack of glamour in conversations during the daytime. The 
place of conversation seems to me entirely unimportant. One can 
enjoy a good conversation on literature and philosophy in an eigh- 
teenth-century salon, or sitting on barrels at a plantation of an after- 
noon. Or it may be on a windy or rainy night when we are traveling 
in a river boat and the lantern lights from boats anchoring on the 
opposite bank of the river cast their reflections into the water and 
we hear the boatmen tell us stories about the girlhood of the Queen. 
In fact, the charm of conversation lies in the fact that the circum- 
stances in which it takes place, the place, the time and the persons 
engaged in it, vary from occasion to occasion. Sometimes we remem- 
ber it in connection with a breezy moonlight night, when the cassia 
flowers are in bloom, and sometimes we associate it in memory with 
a dark and stormy night when a log fire is glowing on the hearth, 
and sometimes we remember we were sitting on top of a pavilion 
watching boats coming down the river, and perhaps a boat was over- 
turned by the swift current, or again, we were sitting in the waiting 
room of a railroad station in the small hours of the morning. These 
pictures associate themselves indelibly with our memory of those 
particular conversations. There were perhaps two or three persons 



in the room, or perhaps five or six; maybe old Chen was slightly 
drunk that night, or old Chin had a cold in the nose and spoke with 
a slight twang, adding to the particular flavor of that evening. Such 
is human life that “the moon cannot always be round, the flowers 
cannot always look so fine and good friends cannot always meet 
together,” and I do not think the gods will be jealous of us when 
we engage in such simple pastimes. 

As a rule, a good conversation is always like a good familiar essay. 
Both its style and its contents are similar to that of the essay. Such 
topics as fox-spirits, flies, the strange ways of Englishmen, the differ- 
ence between Oriental and Occidental culture, the bookstalls along 
the Seine, a nymphomaniac apprentice in a tailor shop, anecdotes 
of our rulers, statesmen and generals, the method of preserving 
“Buddha’s Fingers” (a variety of citron) — these are all good and 
legitimate topics of conversation. The point it has most in common 
with the essay is its leisurely style. However weighty and important 
the topic may be, involving reflections on the sad change or state of 
chaos of one’s own country, or the sinking of civilization itself under 
a current of mad political ideas, depriving man of liberty, human 
dignity and even the goal of human happiness, or even involving 
moving questions of truth and justice, still such ideas are expressed 
in a casual, leisurely and intimate manner. For in civilization, how- 
ever a man chafes and is angry at the robbers of our liberty, we are 
allowed only to express our sentiments by a light smile around our 
lips or at the tip of our pen. Our really impassioned tirades, in which 
we give full reins to our sentiments, may be heard only by a few of 
our most intimate friends. Hence the requisite condition of a true 
conversation is that we are able to air our views at leisure in the 
intimacy of a room with a few good friends and with no people 
around whom we hate to look at. 

It is easy to see this contrast between the true genre of conversa- 
tion and other kinds of polite exchange of opinion by referring to 
the similar contrast between a good familiar essay and the statements 
of politicians. Although there are a good deal more noble sentiments 
expressed in politicians’ statements, sentiments of democracy, desire 

214 THE ENJOYMENT of living 

for service, interest in the welfare of the poor, devotion to the 
country, lofty idealism, love of peace and assurances of unfailing 
international friendship, and absolutely no suggestions of greed for 
power or money or fame, yet there is a smell about it which puts 
one off at a distance, like an over-dressed and over-painted lady. On 
the other hand, when we hear a true conversation or read a good 
familiar essay, we feel that we have seen a plainly dressed country 
maiden washing clothes by the riverbank, with perhaps her hair a 
little disheveled and one button loose, but withal charming and in- 
timate and likable. That is the familiar charm and studied negli- 
gence aimed at in a Western woman’s negligee. Some of this 
familiar charm of intimacy must be a part of all good conversations 
and all good essays. 

The proper style of conversation is, therefore, a style of intimacy 
and nonchalance, in which the parties engaged have lost their self- 
consciousness and are entirely oblivious of how they dress, how they 
speak, how they sneeze, and where they put their hands, and are 
equally indifferent as to which way the conversation is drifting. We 
can engage in a true conversation only when we meet our intimate 
friends and are prepared to unburden our hearts to each other. One 
of them has put his feet on a neighboring table, another is sitting on 
a window sill, and still another is sitting on the floor, upholstered by 
a cushion which he has snatched from the sofa, thus leaving one- 
third of the sofa seat uncovered. For it is only when your hands and 
feet are relaxed and the position of your body is at ease that your 
heart can be at ease also. It is then that: 

Before my face are friends who know my heart, 

And at my side are none who hurt my eyes. 

This is the absolutely necessary condition of all conversation worthy 
of the name of an art. And since we do not care what we are talking 
about, the conversation will drift further and further, without order 
and without method, and the company break up, happy of heart. 

Such is the connection between leisure and conversation and the 
connection between conversation and the rise of prose that I believe 



the truly cultured prose of a nation was born at a time when con- 
versation had already developed as a fine art. This we see most 
clearly in the development of Chinese and Greek prose. I cannot 
otherwise imagine an explanation for the vitality of Chinese thought 
in the centuries following Confucius, giving birth to the so-called 
“Nine Schools of Thought,” than the development of a cultured 
background, in which there was a class of scholars whose business 
was only to talk. For confirmation of my theory, we find there were 
five great rich noblemen, noted for their generosity, chivalry and 
fondness for guests. All of them had thousands of scholarly guests 
at their homes, as for instance Mengch’ang of Ch’i Kingdom who 
was reputed to have three thousand scholars, or “guests” wearing 
“pearled shoes,” being “fed” at his home. One can imagine the 
conversational hubbub that was going on in those houses. The con- 
tent of the conversation of scholars of those days is today reflected in 
the books of Liehtse, Huainantse, Chan\nots’ eh and Lilian. It is 
noteworthy that with respect to the last one, which was a book 
admittedly written by Lii’s guests but published in his name (in a 
sense similar to the “patrons” of English sixteenth-century and 
seventeenth-century authors), there was already developed the idea 
of the art of living well, in the formula that it would be better to live 
well or not at all. There was besides a class of brilliant sophists or 
professional talkers, who were engaged by the different warring 
states and sent out as diplomats to avert a crisis or persuade a hostile 
army to retreat from the walls of a besieged city, or to bring about 
an alliance, as so many did. Such professional sophists were always 
distinguished by their wit, their clever parables and their general 
persuasive power. The conversations or clever arguments of such 
sophists are preserved for us in the book Chan\uots’ eh. From such 
an atmosphere of free and playful discussion arose some of the 
greatest names in philosophy, Yang Chu, noted for his cynicism, 
Hanfeitse, noted for his realism (similar to Machiaevelli’s, but more 
tempered), and the great diplomat Yentse, noted for his wit. 

An example of the cultured social life existing in the third century 
B. C., toward the end of this period, may be seen in the record of 



how a certain scholar by the name of Li Yuan succeeded in present- 
ing his accomplished sister to the court of a rich patron in the 
Kingdom of Ch’u. The patron in turn secured the favor of the Kin g 
for this girl, which was eventually responsible for the destruction of 
the Kingdom of Ch’u by the conquering army of the First Emperor 
of Ch’in, who united the Chinese Empire. 

Formerly there was Li Yuan, serving as a subordinate of 
Prince Ch’unshen, the Prime Minister of the King of Ch’u. Li 
had a sister by the name of Niihuan who spoke to him one day, 

“I hear that the King is without an heir. If you will present me 
to the Prime Minister, through him I will be able to see the 
King.” “But the Prime Minister is a high official,” replied her 
brother. “How dare I mention it to him?” “You just go and 
see him,” said his sister, “and then tell him that you have to 
come home because a noble guest has arrived. He will then ask 
you who is the noble guest and you can reply that you have a 
sister, that the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lu has heard 
of her reputation and has sent a delegate to ask for her from 
you, and that a messenger from home has just brought the 
news. He will then ask, what can your sister do? And you will 
reply that I can play on the ch’in, can read and write, and have 
mastered one of the classics. He is certain to send for me that 

Li then promised to do as she said, and the next morning, 
after seeing the Prime Minister, he said, “A messenger from 
home told me that there is a guest from a distant country, and 
I must return to receive him.” The Prime Minister Ch’unshen 
then actually asked him, “Who is this noble guest from a distant 
country?” And Li replied, “I have a sister, and the Prime Minis- 
ter of the Kingdom of Lu has heard of her reputation and has 
sent a delegate to ask for her.” “May I see her?” asked the 
Prime Minister. “Ask her to come and meet me at the Li 
Pavilion.” “Yes sir,” replied Li, and he returned and told his 
sister that the Prime Minister expected to see her the next 
evening at the Li Pavilion. “You must go there yourself first in 
order to be there when I arrive,” said the girl. 

The Prime Minister then arrived at the time and asked to 
see Niihuan. She was presented and they drank a great deal. 
Niihuan played on the ch’in, and before her song was finished. 



the Prime Minister was greatly pleased and asked her to stay 

there for the night. . . . 

This then, was the social background of cultivated ladies and 
leisurely scholars, which produced for us the first important devel- 
opment of prose in China. There were ladies who could talk and 
read and write and play on a musical instrument, making for that 
peculiarly light mixture of social, artistic and literary motives that 
was always found in a society where men and women mixed 
together. It was undoubtedly aristocratic in character and atmos- 
phere, for the Prime Minister Ch’unshen was difficult to see, but 
when he heard of a lady who could play on a musical instrument 
and had mastered one of the classics, he insisted on seeing her. 
This was then the life of leisure which the early Chinese sophists 
and philosophers lived. The books of these early Chinese philoso- 
phers were nothing but the results of leisurely conversation among 
these scholars. 

It is clear that only in a society with leisure can the art of con- 
versation be produced, and it is equally clear also that only when 
there is an art of conversation can there be good familiar essays. 
In general, both the art of conversation and the art of writing good 
prose came comparatively late in the history of human civiliza- 
tion, because the human mind had to develop a certain subtlety 
and lightness of touch, and this was possible only in a life of lei- 
sure. I am quite aware that today, from the point of view of the 
Communists, to enjoy leisure or to belong to the hated leisure 
class is already to be counter-revolutionary, but I am quite con- 
vinced that the aim of true Communism and Socialism is that 
all people should be able to enjoy leisure, or that the enjoyment 
of leisure should become general. Therefore, the enjoyment of lei- 
sure cannot be a sin, but on the other hand the progress of culture 
itself depends on an intelligent use of leisure, of which conversa- 
tion is only one form. Business men who are busy the whole day 
and immediately go to bed after supper, snoring like cows, are 
not likely to contribute anything to culture. 



Sometimes this “leisure” is enforced upon one and does not 
come of one’s own seeking. All the same, many good works of 
literature have been produced in an atmosphere of enforced leisure. 
When we see a literary genius with great promise, dispersing his 
energy in futile social parties or writing essays on current politics, 
the best and kindest thing we can do to him is to shut him up in 
jail. For we must remember that it was in prison that the King 
Wen wrote his Boo\ of Changes, a classic of philosophy on the 
changes of human life, and Ssema Ch’ien wrote his masterpiece, 
Shihchi (conventionally spelled Shi\i), the best history ever written 
in the Chinese language. Sometimes the authors were defeated in 
their ambitions for a political career, or the political situation was 
too discouraging, and great works of literature or of art were pro- 
duced. That is the reason why we had such great Yuan painters 
and Yuan dramatists during the Mongol regime and such great 
painters as Shih T’ao and Pata Shanjen during the beginning of 
the Manchu conquest of China. Patriotism in the form of a sense of 
utter humiliation under foreign rule made their whole-hearted 
devotion to art and learning possible. Shih T’ ao is undoubtedly one 
of the very greatest painters China has ever produced, and the 
fact that he is not generally known in the West is due to an accident 
and to the fact that the Manchu emperors were not willing to 
give credit to these artists not in sympathy with their rule. Other 
great writers who had failed in the Imperial examination, began 
to sublimate their energy and turn to creation, as in the case of 
Shih Naian who gave us All Men Are Brothers and P’u Liuhsien 
who gave us Strange Stories From a Chinese Studio. 

We have in the preface to All Men Are Brothers, attributed to 
Shih, one of the most delightful descriptions of the pleasure of con- 
versation among friends: 

When all my friends come together to my house, there are 
sixteen persons in all, but it is seldom that they all come. But 
except for rainy or stormy days, it is also seldom that none of 
them comes. Most of the days, we have six or seven persons in 
the house, and when they come, they do not immediately begin 



to think; they would take a sip when they feel like it and stop 
when they feel like it, for they regard the pleasure as consisting 
in the conversation, and not in the wine. We do not talk about 
court politics, not only because it lies outside our proper occupa- 
tion, but also because at such a distance most of the news is 
based upon hearsay; hearsay news is mere rumour, and to dis- 
cuss rumours would be a waste of our saliva. We also do not 
talk about people’s faults, for people have no faults, and we 
should not malign them. We do not say things to shock people 
and no one is shocked; on the other hand, we do wish people 
to understand what we say, but people still don’t understand 
what we say. For such things as we talk about lie in the depths 
of the human heart, and the people of the world are too busy 
to hear them. 

It was in this kind of style and with this kind of sentiment that 
Shih’s great work was produced, and this was possible because 
they enjoyed leisure. 

The rise of Greek prose took place clearly in the same kind of 
a leisurely social background. The lucidity of Greek thought and 
clearness of the Greek prose style clearly owe their existence to 
the art of leisurely conversation, as is so clearly revealed in the title 
of Plato’s Dialogues. In the “Banquet” we see a group of Greek 
scholars inclining on the ground and chatting merrily along in 
an atmosphere of wine and fruit and beautiful boys. It was because 
these people had cultivated the art of talking that their thought 
was so lucid and their style so clear, providing a refreshing con- 
trast to the pomposity and pedantry of modern academic writers. 
These Greeks evidently had learned to handle the topic of philoso- 
phy lighdy. The charming conversational atmosphere of the Greek 
philosophers, their desire for talking, the value they placed upon 
hearing a good talk and the choice of surroundings for conversa- 
tions were beautifully described in the introduction to “Phaedrus.” 
This gives us an insight into the rise of Greek prose. 

Plato’s “Republic” itself does not begin, as some of the modern 
writers would have it, with some such sentence as, “Human civili- 
zation, as seen through its successive stages of development, is a 



dynamic movement from heterogeneity to homogeneity,” or some 
other equally incomprehensible rot. It begins rather with the genial 
sentence: “I went down yesterday to the Piraeus, with Glauco, the 
son of Aristo, to pay my devotion to the goddess; and desirous, 
at the same time, to observe in what manner they would celebrate 
the festival, as they were now to do it for the first time.” The same 
atmosphere that we find among the early Chinese philosophers 
when thinking was most active and virile, we find in the picture 
of Greek men, gathered to discuss the topic whether a great writer 
of tragedies should or should not be also a great writer of comedies, 
as described in “The Banquet.” There was an atmosphere of mixed 
seriousness and gaiety and friendly repartee. People were making 
fun of Socrates’ drinking capacity, but there he sat, drinking or 
stopping as he liked, pouring a cup for himself when he felt like 
it, without bothering about others. And thus he talked the whole 
night out until everybody in the company fell asleep except Aristo- 
phanes and Agathon. When he had thus talked everybody to sleep 
and was thus the only one awake, he left the banquet and went 
to Lyceum to have a morning bath, and passed the day as fresh 
as ever. It was in this atmosphere of friendly discourse that Greek 
philosophy was born. 

There is no question but we need the presence of women in a 
cultured conversation, to give it the necessary frivolity which is the 
soul of conversation. Without frivolity and gaiety, conversation 
soon becomes heavy and philosophy itself becomes foolish and a 
stranger to life. It has been found in all countries and in all ages 
that, whenever there was a culture interested in the understanding 
of the art of living, there always developed a fashion of welcoming 
women in society. This was the case of Athens in the time of 
Pericles, and it was so in the eighteenth-century French salons. 
Even in China, where mixed company was tabooed, Chinese men 
scholars still demanded the presence of women who could join 
in their conversation. In the three dynasties, Chin, Sung and Ming, 
when the art of conversation was cultivated and became a fashion, 
there always appeared accomplished ladies, like Hsieh Taoyiin, 



Ch’oayiin, Liu Jushih and others. For although Chinese men 
demanded that their wives be virtuous and abstain from seeing 
men, they did not on that account cease to desire the company of 
talented women themselves. Chinese literary history after all was 
very much mixed up with the lives of professional courtesans. The 
demand for a touch of feminine charm in a company during 
conversation is a universal demand. I have met German ladies who 
can talk from five o’clock in the afternoon till eleven at night, 
and I have come across English and American ladies who frighten 
me by their familiarity with economics, a subject that I despair 
of ever having the courage to study. But it seems to me, even if 
there are no ladies around who can debate with me on Karl Marx 
and Engels, conversation is always pleasandy stimulated when there 
are a few ladies who know how to listen and look sweetly pensive. 
I always find it more delightful than talking to stupid-looking 

IV. On Tea and Friendship 

I do not think diat, considered from the point of view of human 
culture and happiness, there have been more significant inven- 
tions in the history of mankind, more vitally important and more 
directly contribudng to our enjoyment of leisure, friendship, socia- 
bility and conversation, than the inventions of smoking, drinking 
and tea. All three have several characteristics in common: first of 
all, that they contribute toward our sociability; secondly, that they 
do not fill our stomach as food does, and therefore can be enjoyed 
between meals; and thirdly, that they are all to be enjoyed through 
the nostrils by acting on our sense of smell. So great are their 
influences upon culture that we have smoking cars besides dining 
cars, and we have wine restaurants or taverns and tea houses. In 
China and England at least, drinking tea has become a social insti- 

The proper enjoyment of tobacco, drink and tea can only be 
developed in an atmosphere of leisure, friendship and sociability 



For it is only with men gifted with the sense of comradeship, 
extremely select in the matter of forming friends and endowed with 
a natural love of the leisurely life, that the full enjoyment of 
tobacco and drink and tea becomes possible. Take away the element 
of sociability, and these things have no meaning. The enjoyment 
of these things, like the enjoyment of the moon, the snow and 
the flowers, must take place in proper company, for this I regard 
as the thing that the Chinese artists of life most frequently insist 
upon: that certain kinds of flowers must be enjoyed with certain 
types of persons, certain kinds of scenery must be associated with 
certain kinds of ladies, that the sound of raindrops must be enjoyed, 
if it is to be enjoyed fully, when lying on a bamboo bed in a temple 
deep in the mountains on a summer day; that, in short, the mood 
is the thing, that there is a proper mood for everything, and that 
wrong company may spoil the mood entirely. Hence the beginning 
of any artist of life is that he or anyone who wishes to learn to 
enjoy life must, as the absolutely necessary condition, find friends 
of the same type of temperament, and take as much trouble to gain 
and keep their friendship as wives take to keep their husbands, or 
as a good chess player takes a journey of a thousand miles to meet 
a fellow chess player. 

The atmosphere, therefore, is the thing. One must begin with the 
proper conception of the scholar’s studio and the general environ- 
ment in which life is going to be enjoyed. First of all, there are 
the friends with whom we are going to share this enjoyment. 
Different types of friends must be selected for different types of 
enjoyment. It would be as great a mistake to go horseback riding 
with a studious and pensive friend, as it would be to go to a concert 
with a person who doesn’t understand music. Hence as a Chinese 
writer expresses it: 

For enjoying flowers, one must secure big-hearted friends. 
For going to sing-song houses to have a look at sing-song girls, 
one must secure temperate friends. For going up a high moun- 
tain, one must secure romantic friends. For boating, one must 
secure friends with an expansive nature. For facing the moon, 



one must secure friends with a cool philosophy. For anticipating 
snow, one must secure beautiful friends. For a wine party, one 
must secure friends with flavor and charm. 

Having selected and formed friends for the proper enjoyment of 
different occasions, one then looks for the proper surroundings. 
It is not so important that one’s house be richly decorated as that 
it should be situated in beautiful country, with the possibility of 
walking about on the rice fields, or lying down under shady trees 
on a river bank. The requirements for the house itself are simple 
enough. One can “have a house with several rooms, grain fields of 
several mow, a pool made from a basin and windows made from 
broken jars, with the walls coming up to the shoulders and a room 
the size of a rice bushel, and in the leisure time after enjoying the 
warmth of cotton beddings and a meal of vegetable soup, one can 
become so great that his spirit expands and fills the entire universe. 
For such a quiet studio, one should have wut’ung trees in front 
and some green bamboos behind. On the south of the house, the 
eaves will stretch boldly forward, while on the north side, there 
will be small windows, which can be closed in spring and 
winter to shelter one from rain and wind, and opened in summer 
and autumn for ventilation. The beauty of the ivut’ung tree is that 
all its leaves fall off in spring and winter, thus admitting us to the 
full enjoyment of the sun’s warmth, while in summer and autumn 
its shade protects us from the scorching heat.” Or as another writer 
expressed it, one should “build a house of several beams, grow a 
hedge of chin trees and cover a pavilion with a hay-thatch. Three 
mow of land will be devoted to planting bamboos and flowers and 
fruit trees, while two mow will be devoted to planting vegetables. 
The four walls of a room are bare and the room is empty, with 
the exception of two or three rough beds placed in the pavilion. 
A peasant boy will be kept to water the vegetables and clear the 
weeds. So then one may arm one’s self with books and a sword 
against solitude, and provide a ch’in (a stringed instrument) and 
chess to anticipate the coming of good friends.” 

An atmosphere of familiarity will then invest the place. “In my 


studio, all formalities will be abolished, and only the most intimate 
friends will be admitted. They will be treated with rich or poor 
fare such as I eat, and we will chat and laugh and forget our 
own existence. We will not discuss the right and wrong of other 
people and will be totally indifferent to worldly glory and wealth. 
In our leisure we will discuss the ancients and the moderns, and 
in our quiet, we will play with the mountains and rivers. Then 
we will have thin, clear tea and good wine to fit into the atmosphere 
of delightful seclusion. That is my conception of the pleasure of 

In such a congenial atmosphere, we are then ready to gratify 
our senses, the senses of color and smell and sound. It is then 
that one should smoke and one should drink. We then transform 
our bodies into a sensory apparatus for perceiving the wonderful 
symphony of colors and sounds and smells and tastes provided 
by Nature and by culture. We feel like good violins about to be 
played on by master violinists. And thus “we burn incense on a 
moonlight night and play three stanzas of music from an ancient 
instrument, and immediately the myriad worries of our breast are 
banished and all our foolish ambitions or desires are forgotten. We 
will then inquire, what is the fragance of this incense, what is the 
color of the smoke, what is that shadow that comes through the 
white papered windows, what is this sound that arises from below 
my fingertips, what is this enjoyment which makes us so quietly 
happy and so forgetful of everything else, and what is the con- 
dition of the infinite universe?” 

Thus chastened in spirit, quiet in mind and surrounded by 
proper company, one is fit to enjoy tea. For tea is invented for 
quiet company as wine is invented for a noisy party. There is 
something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet 
contemplation of life. It would be as disastrous to drink tea with 
babies crying around, or with loud-voiced women or politics-talk- 
ing men, as to pick tea on a rainy or a cloudy day. Picked at early 
dawn on a clear day, when the morning air on mountain top was 
clear and thin, and the fragrance of dews was still upon the leaves, 



tea is still associated with the fragrance and refinement of the magic 
dew in its enjoyment. With the Taoist insistence upon return to 
nature, and with its conception that the universe is kept alive by 
the interplay of the male and female forces, the dew actually 
stands for the “juice of heaven and earth” when the two principles 
are united at night, and the idea is current that the dew is a magic 
food, fine and clear and ethereal, and any man or beast who drinks 
enough of it stands a good chance of being immortal. De Quincey 
says quite correcdy that tea “will always be the favorite beverage 
of the intellectual,” but the Chinese seem to go further and assoc- 
iate it with the highminded recluse. 

Tea is then symbolic of earthly purity, requiring the most fas- 
tidious cleanliness in its preparation, from picking, frying and 
preserving to its final infusion and drinking, easily upset or spoiled 
by the slightest contamination of oily hands or oily cups. Conse- 
quently, its enjoyment is appropriate in an atmosphere where all 
ostentation or suggestion of luxury is banished from one’s eyes and 
one’s thoughts. After all, one enjoys sing-song girls with wine and 
not with tea, and when sing-song girls are fit to drink tea with, 
they are already in the class that Chinese poets and scholars favor. 
Su Tungp’o once compared tea to a sweet maiden, but a later critic, 
T’ien Yiheng, author of Chuch’uan Hsiaop'in (Essay On Boiling 
Spring Water ) 1 immediately qualified it by adding that tea could 
be compared, if it must be compared to women at all, only to the 
Fairy Maku, and that, “as for beauties with peach-colored faces 
and willow waists, they should be shut up in curtained beds, and 
not be allowed to contaminate the rocks and springs.” For the 
same author says, “One drinks tea to forget the world’s noise; it 
is not for those who eat rich food and dress in silk pyjamas.” 

It must be remembered that, according to Ch’alu, “the essence of 
the enjoyment of tea lies in appreciation of its color, fragrance and 

1 The classic on tea is Ch’ aching, by Lu Yu (d. A. D. 804); other well-known 
treatises mentioned below arc Ch’alu, by Ts’ai Hsiang (1012-1067); Ch’asu, by 
Hsu Ts’eshu; Chuchiian Hsiaop’in, by T’ien Yihing (c. 1570); Ch’achien, by 
Tu Lung (c. 1592). 



flavor, and the principles of preparation are refinement, dryness and 
cleanliness An element of quiet is therefore necessary for the ap- 
preciation of these qualities, an appreciation that comes from a man 
who can “look at a hot world with a cool head.” Since the Sung 
Dynasty, connoisseurs have generally regarded a cup of pale tea 
as the best, and the delicate flavor of pale tea can easily pass 
unperceived by one occupied with busy thoughts, or when the 
neighborhood is noisy, or servants are quarreling, or when served 
by ugly maids. The company, too, must be small. For, “it is 
important in drinking tea that the guests be few. Many guests 
would make it noisy, and noisiness takes away from its cultured 
charm. To drink alone is called secluded; to drink between two is 
called comfortable; to drink with three or four is called charming; 
to drink with five or six is called common; and to drink with seven 
or eight is called [contemptuously] philanthropic.” As the author 
of Ch’asu said, “to pour tea around again and again from a big 
pot, and drink it up at a gulp, or to warm it up again after a 
while, or to ask for extremely strong taste would be like farmers 
or artisans who drink tea to fill their belly after hard work; it 
would then be impossible to speak of the distinction and apprecia- 
tion of flavors.” 

For this reason, and out of consideration for the utmost right- 
ness and cleanliness in preparation, Chinese writers on tea have 
always insisted on personal attention in boiling tea, or since that is 
necessarily inconvenient, that two boy servants be specially trained 
to do the job. Tea is usually boiled on a separate small stove in 
the room or directly outside, away from the kitchen. The servant 
boys must be trained to make tea in the presence of their master 
and to observe a routine of cleanliness, washing the cups every 
morning (never wiping them with a towel), washing their hands 
often and keeping their fingernails clean. “When there are three 
guests, one stove will be enough, but when there are five or six 
persons, two separate stoves and kettles will be required, one boy 
attending to each stove, for if one is required to attend to both, 
there may be delays or mix-ups.” True connoisseurs, however, 



regard the personal preparation of tea as a special pleasure. With- 
out developing into a rigid system as in Japan, the preparation 
and drinking of tea is always a performance of loving pleasure, im- 
portance and distinction. In fact, the preparation is half the fun of 
the drinking, as cracking melon-seeds between one’s teeth is half 
the pleasure of eating them. 

Usually a stove is set before a window, with good hard charcoal 
burning. A certain sense of importance invests the host, who fans 
the stove and watches the vapor coming out from the kettle. 
Methodically he arranges a small pot and four tiny cups, usually 
smaller than small coffee cups, in a tray. He sees that they are in 
order, moves the pewter-foil pot of tea leaves near the tray and 
keeps it in readiness, chatting along with his guests, but not so 
much that he forgets his duties. He turns round to look at the 
stove, and from the time the ketde begins to sing, he never leaves 
it, but continues to fan the fire harder than before. Perhaps he 
stops to take the lid off and look at the tiny bubbles, technically 
called “fish eyes” or “crab froth,” appearing on the bottom of the 
kettle, and puts the lid on again. This is the “first boil.” He listens 
carefully as the gentle singing increases in volume to that of a 
“gurgle,” with small bubbles coming up the sides of the ketde, 
technically called the “second boil.” It is then that he watches most 
carefully the vapor emitted from the kettle spout, and just shortly 
before the “third boil” is reached, when the water is brought up 
to a full boil, “like billowing waves,” he takes the kettle from the 
fire and scalds the pot inside and out with the boiling water, 
immediately adds the proper quantity of leaves and makes the 
infusion. Tea of this kind, like the famous “Iron Goddess of Mercy,” 
drunk in Fukien, is made very thick. The small pot is barely 
enough to hold four demi-tasses and is filled one-third with leaves. 
As the quantity of leaves is large, the tea is immediately poured 
into the cups and immediately drunk. This finishes the pot, and 
the kettle, filled with fresh water, is put on the fire again, getting 
ready for the second pot. Strictly speaking, the second pot is 
regarded as the best; the first pot being compared to a girl of 


thirteen, the second compared to a girl of sweet sixteen, and the 
third regarded as a woman. Theoretically, the third infusion from 
the same leaves is disallowed by connoisseurs, but actually one 
does try to live on with the “woman.” 

The above is a strict description of preparing a special kind of 
tea as I have seen it in my native province, an art generally 
unknown in North China. In China generally, tea pots used are 
much larger, and the ideal color of tea is a clear, pale, golden 
yellow, never dark red like English tea. 

Of course, we are speaking of tea as drunk by connoisseurs and 
not as generally served among shopkeepers. No such nicety can be 
expected of general mankind or when tea is consumed by the 
gallon by all comers. That is why the author of Ch’asu, Hsu 
Ts’eshu, says, “When there is a big party, with visitors coming and 
coming, one can only exchange with them cups of wine, and 
among strangers who have just met or among common friends, 
one should serve only tea of the ordinary quality. Only when our 
intimate friends of the same temperament have arrived, and we 
are all happy, all brilliant in conversation and all able to lay aside 
the formalities, then may we ask the boy servant to build a fire 
and draw water, and decide the number of stoves and cups to be 
used in accordance with the company present.” It. is of this state of 
things that the author of Ch’achieh says, “We are sitting at night 
in a mountain lodge, and are boiling tea with water from a moun- 
tain spring. When the fire attacks the water, we begin to hear 
a sound similar to the singing of the wind among pine trees. We 
pour the tea into a cup, and the gentle glow of its light plays 
around the place. The pleasure of such a moment cannot be shared 
with vulgar people.” 

In a true tea lover, the pleasure of handling all the paraphernalia 
is such that it is enjoyed for its own sake, as in the case of Ts’ail 
Hsiang, who in his old age was not able to drink, but kept on 
enjoying the preparation of tea as a daily habit. There was also 
another scholar, by the name of Chou Wenfu, who prepared and 
drank tea six times daily at definite hours from dawn to evening, 



and who loved his pot so much that he had it buried with him 
when he died. 

The art and technique of tea enjoyment, then, consists of the 
following: first, tea, being most susceptible to contamination of 
flavors, must be handled throughout with the utmost cleanliness 
and kept apart from wine, incense, and other smelly substances 
and people handling such substances. Second, it must be kept in 
a cool, dry place, and during moist seasons, a reasonable quantity 
for use must be kept in special small pots, best made of pewter- 
foil, while the reserve in the big pots is not opened except when 
necessary, and if a collection gets moldy, it should be submitted to 
a gende roasting over a slow fire, uncovered and constantly fanned, 
so as to prevent the leaves from turning yellow or becoming discol- 
ored. Third, half of the art of making tea lies in getting good water 
with a keen edge; mountain spring water comes first, river water 
second, and well water third; water from the tap, if coming from 
dams, being essentially mountain water and satisfactory. Fourth, for 
the appreciation of rare cups, one must have quiet friends and not too 
many of them at one time. Fifth, the proper color of tea in general 
is a pale golden yellow, and all dark red tea must be taken with 
milk or lemon or peppermint, or anything to cover up its awful 
sharp taste. Sixth, the best tea has a “return flavor” {hueiwei), 
which is felt about half a minute after drinking and after its chemh 
cal elements have had time to act on the salivary glands. Seven, 
tea must be freshly made and drunk immediately, and if good 
tea is expected, it should not be allowed to stand in the pot for too 
long, when the infusion has gone too far. Eight, it must be made 
with water just brought up to a boil. Nine, all adulterants are taboo, 
although individual differences may be allowed for people who 
prefer a slight mixture of some foreign flavor ( e . g., jasmine, or 
cassia). Eleven, the flavor expected of the best tea is the delicate 
flavor of “baby’s flesh.” 

In accordance with the Chinese practice of prescribing the proper 
moment and surrounding for enjoying a thing, Ch’asu, an excellent 
treatise on tea, reads thus: 



Proper moments for drinking tea: 

When one’s heart and hands are idle. 

Tired after reading poetry. 

When one’s thoughts are disturbed. 

Listening to songs and ditties. 

When a song is completed. 

Shut up at one’s home on a holiday. 

Playing the ch'in and looking over paintings. 

Engaged in conversation deep at night. 

Before a bright window and a clean desk. 

With charming friends and slender concubines. 

Returning from a visit with friends. 

When the day is clear and the breeze is mild. 

On a day of light showers. 

In a painted boat near a small wooden bridge. 

In a forest with tall bamboos. 

In a pavilion overlooking lotus flowers on a summer day. 
Having lighted incense in a small studio. 

After a feast is over and the guests are gone. 

When children are at school. 

In a quiet, secluded temple. 

Near famous springs and quaint rocks. 

Moments when one should stop drinking tea: 

At work. 

Watching a play. 

Opening letters. 

During big rain and snow. 

At a long wine feast with a big party. 

Going through documents. 

On busy days. 

Generally conditions contrary to those enumerated in the 
above section. 

Things to be avoided: 

Bad water. 

Bad utensils. 

Brass spoons. 

Brass kettles. 


2 3 l 

Wooden pails (for water). 

Wood for fuel (on account of smoke). 

Soft charcoal. 

Coarse servant. 

Bad-tempered maid. 

Unclean towels. 

All varieties of incense and medicine. 

Things and places to be \ept away from : 

Damp rooms. 


Noisy streets. 

Crying infants. 

Hotheaded persons. 

Quarreling servants. 

Hot rooms. 

V. On Smoke and Incense 

The world today is divided into smokers and non-smokers. It is 
true that the smokers cause some nuisance to the non-smokers, 
but this nuisance is physical, while the nuisance that the non- 
smokers cause the smokers is spiritual. There are, of course, a lot 
of non-smokers who don’t try to interfere with the smokers, and 
wives can be trained even to tolerate their husbands’ smoking in 
bed. That is the surest sign of a happy and successful marriage. 
It is sometimes assumed, however, that the non-smokers are morally 
superior, and that they have something to be proud of, not realizing 
that they have missed one of the greatest pleasures of mankind. I 
am willing to allow that smoking is a moral weakness, but on the 
other hand, we must beware of the man without weaknesses. He 
is not to be trusted. He is apt to be always sober and he cannot 
make a single mistake. His habits are likely to be regular, his 
existence more mechanical and his head always maintains its 
supremacy over his heart. Much as I like reasonable persons, I hate 
completely rational beings. For that reason, I am always scared 
and ill at ease when I enter a house in which there are no ash 


trays. The room is apt to be too clean and orderly, the cushions 
are apt to be in their right places, and the people are apt to be 
correct and unemotional. And immediately I am put on my best 
behavior, which means the same thing as the most uncomfortable 

Now the moral and spiritual benefits of smoking have never 
been appreciated by these correct and righteous and unemotional 
and unpoetic souls. But since we smokers are usually attacked 
from the moral, and not the artistic side, I must begin by defend- 
ing the smoker’s morality, which is on the whole higher than that 
of the non-smokers. The man with a pipe in his mouth is the man 
after my heart. He is more genial, more sociable, has more intimate 
indiscretions to reveal, and sometimes he is quite brilliant in con- 
versation, and in any case, I have a feeling that he likes me as 
much as I like him. I agree entirely with Thackeray, who wrote: 
“The pipe draws wisdom from the lips of the philosopher, and shuts 
up the mouths of the foolish; it generates a style of conversation 
contemplative, thoughtful, benevolent, and unaffected.” 

A smoker may have dirtier finger-nails, but that is no matter 
when his heart is warm, and in any case a style of conversation 
contemplative, thoughtful, benevolent, and unaffected is such a 
rare thing that one is willing to pay a high price, to enjoy it. And 
most important of all, a man with a pipe in his mouth is always 
happy, and after all, happiness is the greatest of all moral virtues. 
W. Maggin says that “no cigar smoker ever committed suicide,” 
and it is still truer that no pipe smoker ever quarrels with his wife. 
The reason is perfectly plain: one cannot hold a pipe between one’s 
teeth and at the same time shout at the top of one’s voice. No one 
has ever been seen doing that. For one naturally talks in a low 
voice when smoking a pipe. What happens when a husband who 
is a smoker gets angry, is that he immediately lights a cigarette, 
or a pipe, and looks glum. But that will not be for long. For his 
emotion has already found an outlet, and although he may want 
to continue to look angry in order to justify his indignation or 
sense of being insulted, still he cannot keep it up, for the gentle 


2 33 

fumes of the pipe are altogether too agreeable and soothing, and 
as he puffs the smoke out, he also seems to let out, breath by 
breath, his stored-up anger. That is why when a wise wife sees 
her husband about to fly into a fit of rage, she should gendy stick 
a pipe in his mouth and say, “There! forget about it!” This formula 
always works. A wife may fail, but a pipe never. 

The artistic and literary value of smoking can best be appreciated 
only when we imagine what a smoker misses when he stops smok- 
ing for a short period. Every smoker has, in some foolish moment, 
attempted to abjure his allegiance to Lady Nicotine, and then after 
some wrestling with his imaginary conscience, come back to his 
senses again. I was foolish enough once to stop smoking for three 
weeks, but at the end of that period, my conscience irresistibly 
urged me onto the right road again. I swore I would never relapse, 
but would keep on being a devotee and a worshiper at her shrine 
until my second childhood, when I might conceivably fall prey to 
some Temperance Society wives. When that unhappy old age 
arrives, one is of course not responsible for one’s actions. But so 
long as I have a modicum of will-power and moral sense left, I 
shall not attempt it again. As if I had not seen the folly of it all — 
the utter immorality of trying to deny oneself the spiritual force 
and sense of moral well-being provided by this useful invention. 
For according to Haldane, the great English bio-chemist, smoking 
counts as one of the four human inventions in the history of man- 
kind that have left a deep biologic influence on human culture. 

The story of those three weeks, when I played the coward to my 
own better self and willfully denied myself something that I knew 
to be of great soul-uplifting force, was indeed a disgraceful one. 
Now that I can look back upon it in a matter-of-fact and rational 
way, I can hardly understand at all how that fit of moral irrespon- 
sibility lasted so long. If I were to detail my spiritual Odyssey by 
day and by night during those three weeks in the Joycean man- 
ner, I am sure it would fill three thousand good Homeric lines 
in verse, or a hundred and fifty closely printed pages in prose. Of 
course, the object, to begin with, was ridiculous. Why, in the name 


of the human race and the universe, should one not smoke? I can- 
not answer now. But such unreasonable moods do come to a man 
sometimes, when one, I suppose, wishes to do something against 
the grain just for the pleasure of overcoming resistance and in this 
way use up his momentary excess of moral energy. Beyond this, 
I cannot account for my sudden and unholy resolution to cut out 
smoking. In other words, I was giving myself a moral test much 
in the same manner as people indulge in Swedish gymnastics — 
movement for the sake of movement, without actually accomplish- 
ing any work useful to society. It was apparently this kind of moral 
luxury that I was giving myself, and that was all. 

Of course, in the first three days, I felt a queer sinking sensa- 
tion somewhere along the alimentary canal, especially in the upper 
part of it. To relieve that queer sensation, I took Double-Mint 
chewing gum, good Fukien tea, and Montesserat Lime-Fruit Pas- 
tilles. I conquered and killed that sensation in exactly three days. 
This was the physical, and therefore the easiest and, to my mind, 
the most contemptible part of the battle. People who think that 
herein lies the whole of the unholy struggle against smoking have 
no idea of what they are talking about. They forget that smoking 
is a spiritual act, and those who have no idea of the spiritual sig- 
nificance of smoking ought never to meddle with the affair. After 
three days, I encountered the second stage, when the real spiritual 
battle began. Scales fell from my eyes and I saw that there were 
two races of smokers, one of which never deserved the name at 
all. For these people, the second stage never existed. I began to 
understand why we hear of the “easy conversions” of many smokers 
who seem to have given up their smoking without any struggle at 
all. The fact that they could stop such a habit as easily as they 
could throw away an old toothbrush shows that they have never 
really learned to smoke at all. People credit them with a “strong 
will-power,” whereas the fact is these people are never true smokers 
and have never been so in their lives. For them, smoking is a 
physical act, like the washing of their faces and brushing of their 
teeth every morning — a mere physical, animal habit without any 


2 35 

soul-satisfying qualities. I doubt whether this race of matter-of-fact 
people would ever be capable of tuning up their souls in ecstatic 
response to Shelley’s “Skylark” or Chopin’s “Nocturne.” These 
people miss nothing by giving up their smoke. They are probably 
happier reading Aesop’s Fables with their Temperance wives. 

For us true smokers, however, a problem existed, of which neither 
the Temperance wives nor their Aesop-reading husbands have 
even an inkling. For us, the injustice to oneself and the senseless- 
ness of it all soon became apparent. Good sense and reason soon 
began to revolt against it and ask: for what reason, social, political, 
moral, physiological or financial, should one consciously use one’s 
will-power to prevent oneself from attaining that complete spiritual 
well-being, that condition of keen, imaginative perception, and full, 
vibrant creative energy — a condition necessary to our perfect en- 
joyment of a friend’s conversation by the fireside, or to the creating 
of real warmth in the reading of an ancient book, or to that bring- 
ing forth of a perfect cadence of words and thought from the 
mind that we know as authorship? At such moments, one instinc- 
tively feels that reaching out for a cigarette is the only morally 
right thing to do, and that sticking a piece of chewing gum in 
the mouth instead would be criminally wicked. Of such moments, 
I can tell only a few here. 

My friend B had arrived from Peiping and called on me. 

We had not seen each other for three years. At Peiping, then called 
Peking, we used to chat and smoke the evenings out, discussing 
politics and philosophy and modern art. And now he had come, 
and we were engaged in the fascinating task of rambling remi- 
niscences. We discussed the whole bunch of professors, poets and 
cranks we used to know in Peiping. At every pointed remark, I 
was mentally reaching out for a cigar, but instead inhibited myself 
and only rose up and sat down again. My friend, on the other 
hand, was rattling along amidst his cigar fumes in perfect con- 
tentment. I had told him that I had given up smoking, and I had 
enough self-respect not to break down right in his presence. But 
down in my heart, I knew I was not at my best, and was only 


unjustly making myself look coldly rational, when I wished to 
partake of the full communion of the two souls with a complete 
surrender of the emotions. The conversation went on, somewhat 
onesidedly, with half of myself there, and then my friend left. I 
had stuck it all out somewhat grimly. By that fiction of “will- 
power,” I had “won,” but I knew only that I was unhappy. A few 
days later, my friend wrote me on his voyage that he had found 
me not the old, vibrant, ecstatic self, and suggested that perhaps 
living in Shanghai had something to do with it. To this day, I 
have not forgiven myself for failing to smoke that night. 

Another night, there was a club meeting of certain “intellectuals,” 
which was usually a time for some furious smoking. After the 
sumptuous repast, some one of us usually read a paper. This time, 

the speaker was C , talking on “Religion and Revolution,” a 

paper punctuated with many brilliant remarks. One was that while 
Feng Yiihsiang had joined the Northern Methodist Church, Chiang 
Kaishek had chosen to join the Southern Methodist Church. Some 
one therefore suggested that it would not be long before Wu Peifu 
joined the Western Methodists. As such remarks passed round, the 
density of the smoke grew, and it seemed to me the very atmosphere 

was laden with wicked, fugitive thoughts. The poet H was 

sitting in the middle, and was trying to send successive smoke- 
rings up the heavy air, very much as a fish would let forth bubbles 
of air through the water — lost apparendy in his own thoughts and 
happy. I alone did not smoke, and felt like a God-forsaken sinner. 
The senselessness of it all was growing very apparent to myself. 
In that moment of clear vision, I saw that I was mad not to smoke. 
I tried to think up the reasons why I had decided not to smoke, 
and none could present itself to me with any validity. 

After this, my conscience began to gnaw upon my soul. For, I 
said to myself, what was thought without imagination, and how 
could imagination soar on the clipped wings of a drab, non-smok- 
ing soul? Then one afternoon, I visited a lady. I was mentally 
prepared for the re-conversion. Nobody else was in the room, and 
we were apparently going to have a real tete-a-tete. The young lady 


2 37 

was smoking with one arm resting on her crossed knee, slightly 
inclined forward, and looking wistful and in her best style. I felt 
the moment had arrived. She offered the tin, and I took one firmly 
and slowly from it, knowing that by that act I had recovered from 
my temporary fit of moral degradation. 

I came back, and at once sent my boy to buy a tin of Capstan 
Minum. On the right side of my desk, there was a regular mark, 
burnt in by my habitually placing burning cigarette ends there. 
I had calculated that it would take somewhere between seven and 
eight years to burn through the two-inch desk top, and had re- 
gretted to observe that, after my last disgraceful resolution, it was 
going to remain at about half a centimeter. It was with great de- 
light, therefore, that I had the pleasure of placing my burning 
cigarette on that old mark again, where it is happily at work now, 
trying to resume its long journey ahead. 

In contrast with wine, there is comparatively little praise of 
tobacco in Chinese literature, because smoking as a habit was in- 
troduced by Portuguese sailors as late as the sixteenth century. I 
have ransacked the entire Chinese literature after that period, but 
have found only a few scattered insignificant lines, quite unworthy 
of the fragrant weed. An ode in praise of tobacco evidendy has to 
come from some undergraduate of Oxford. The Chinese people, 
however, always had a very high sense of smell, as is evident in 
their appreciation of tea and wine and food. In the absence of 
tobacco, they had developed the art of burning incense, which in 
Chinese literature was always classified in the same category and 
mentioned in the same breath, with tea and wine. From the earliest 
time, as far back as the Han Dynasty when the Chinese Empire 
extended its rule to Indo-China, incense brought as tribute from 
the South began to be used at court and in rich men’s homes. In 
books on. the art of living, sections have always been devoted to 
a discussion of the varieties and quality and preparation of incense. 
In the chapter on incense in the book K'aof/an Yiishih, written by 
T’u Lung, we have the following description of the enjoyment of 


The benefits of the use of incense are manifold. High-minded 
recluse scholars, engaged in their discussion of truth and re- 
ligion, feel that it clears their mind and pleases their spirit 
when they burn a stick of incense. At the fourth watch of the 
night, when the solitary moon is hanging in the sky, and 
one feels cools and detached toward life, it emancipates his 
heart and enables him to whistle leisurely. When one is exam- 
ining old rubbings of calligraphy before a bright window, or 
leisurely singing some poetry with a fly-whip in his hand, or 
when one is reading at night in the lamp light, it helps to 
drive away the Demon of Sleepiness. You may therefore call 
it “the ancient companion of the moon.” When a lady in red 
pyjamas is standing by your side, and you are holding her 
hand around the incense burner and whispering secrets to 
each other, it warms your heart and intensifies your love. You 
may therefore call it “the ancient stimulant of passion.” Or 
when one has waked up from his afternoon nap and is sitting 
before a closed window on a rainy day and practising calligraphy 
and tasting the mild flavor of tea, the burner is just getting 
warm and its subtle fragrance floats about and encircles our 
bodies. Even better still is it when one wakes up from a drink- 
ing party and a full moon is shining upon the clear night, and 
he moves his fingers across the strings or makes a whistle in 
an empty tower, with the green hills in the distance in full 
sight, and the half-visible smoke from the remaining embers 
floats about the door screen. It is also useful for warding off 
evil smells and the malicious atmosphere of a swamp, useful 
anywhere and everywhere one goes. The best in quality is 
chianan, but this is difficult to obtain, not accessible to a man 
living in the mountains. The next best is aloeswood or eagle- 
wood, which is of three grades. The highest grade has too 
strong a smell, tending to be sharp and pungent; the lowest 
grade is too dry and also too full of smoke; the middle grade, 
costing about six or seven cents an ounce, is most soothing 
and fragrant and can be regarded as exquisite. After one has 
boiled a pot of tea, he can make use of the burning charcoals 
and put them in the incense container and let the fire heat 
it up slowly. In such a satisfying moment, one feels like being 
transported to the heavenly abode in the company of the im- 
mortals, entirely oblivious of human existence. Ah, indeed 
great is the pleasure! People nowadays lack the appreciation of 


2 39 

true fragrance and go in for strange and exotic names, trying to 
outdo one another by having a mixture of different kinds, 
not realizing that the fragrance of aloeswood is entirely nat- 
ural, and that the best of its kind has an indescribable subtlety 
and mildness. 

Mao Pichiang in his 'Reminiscences of My Concubine, describ- 
ing the art of life of this rich poet and his accomplished and under- 
standing mistress, gives various descriptions of their enjoyment of 
incense, of which the following is one: 

My concubine often sat quiedy with me in her fragrant bed- 
chamber to sample or judge famous incense. The so-called 
“palace incense” is seductive in quality, while the popular way 
of preparing aloeswood is vulgar. The ordinary people often 
set aloeswood right on the fire and its fragrant fume is soon 
put out by the burning resin. Thus not only has its fragrance 
failed to be brought out, but it also leaves a smoky, choking 
odor behind around one’s body. The hard quality with hori- 
zontal grains called heng\och’en, has a superb fragrance, being 
one of the four kinds of aloeswood, but distinguished by having 
horizontal fibers. There is another variety of this wood, known 
as p’englaihsiang, which is the size of a mushroom and conically 
shaped, being not yet fully grown. We kept all these varieties, 
and she burned them on top of fine sand over a slow fire so 
that no actual smoke was visible. Its subtle perfume permeated 
the chamber like the smell of chianan wood wafted by a breeze, 
or like that of dew-bedecked roses, or of a piece of amber 
rubbed hot by friction, or of fragrant liquor being poured into 
a horn cup. When bedding is perfumed by this method, its 
fragrance blends with that of the woman’s flesh, sweet and in- 
toxicating even in one’s dreams. 

VI. On Drink and Wine Games 

I am no drinker and am therefore totally unqualified to talk of 
wines and liquors. My capacity is three cups of shaohsing rice wine, 
and I am even capable of getting tipsy on a mere glass of beer. 
This is evidently a matter of natural gift, and the gifts of drinking 
tea and wine and smoking do not seem to go together. I have 


found among my friends great drinkers who get sick before they 
go through half a cigar, while I smoke every waking hour of the 
day without any appreciable effect, but am not very good with 
liquors. Anyway, Li Liweng has put down on record his sworn 
opinion that great drinkers of tea are not fond of wine, and vice 
versa. Li himself was a great tea connoisseur, but confessed that 
he had no pretentions to being a drinker of wine at all. It is there- 
fore my special delight and comfort to discover so many distin- 
guished Chinese authors that I like who had really but a small 
capacity for wine, and who said so. It has taken me some time to 
collect these confessions from their letters or other writings. Li 
was one, Yuan Tsets’ai, Wang Yiiyang, and Yuan Chunglang 
were others. All of them, however, were people who had “the sen- 
timent for wine” without having an actual capacity for it. 

In spite of my disqualification, I still cannot ignore this topic, 
because more than anything else, it has made an important con- 
tribution to literature, and in the same measure as smoking, wher- 
ever the custom of smoking was known, it has greatly helped 
man’s creative power, with considerable lasting results. The pleasure 
of wine drinking, especially in what the Chinese call “a little 
drink,” so constantly met with in Chinese literature, had always 
seemed a mystery to me, until a beautiful Shanghai lady, when 
half-drunk herself dilated upon its virtues with such convincing 
power that I finally thought the condition described must be real. 
“One just babbles along and babbles along in the state of half- 
drunkenness, which is the best and happiest state,” she said. There 
seems to be a sense of elation, of confidence in one’s power to 
overcome all obstacles and a heightened sensibility, and man’s 
power of creative thinking, which seems to lie in the borderland 
of fact and fancy, is brought up to a higher pitch than at normal 
times. There seems to be a force of self-confidence and emancipa- 
tion, which is so necessary at the creative moment. The importance 
of this sense of confidence and emancipation from mere rules and 
technique will be made quite clear when we come to the section 
on art. 



There is a wise thought in the suggestion that the modern dic- 
tators of Europe are so dangerous to humanity because they don’t 
drink. In my reading of current literature of the past year, I have 
come across no better and wiser and wittier writing than an article 
by Charles W. Ferguson on “Dictators Don’t Drink” in Harper's 
for June, 1937. The thought is worth pursuing, and the writing 
is so good throughout that I feel tempted to quote it in full but 
have to refrain from doing so. Mr. Ferguson starts out with the 
thought that: “Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini are models of sobriety. 
. . . The men who symbolize tyranny in the modern manner, who 
are up-to-date rulers of men, are fellows worthy of emulation by any 
ambitious young man who earnestly wants to get ahead. Every one 
of the lot would make a good son-in-law and husband. They rep- 
resent an evangelist’s ideal of moral rectitude. . . . Hider eats no 
meat, does not drink, does not smoke. To these suffocating virtues 
he adds the further and more notable virtue of continence. . . . 
Mussolini is more of a horse in his eating, but he abstains with 
grim fortitude from spirituous liquors, now and then taking only 
a tantalizing glass of light wine — but nothing which might seri- 
ously interfere with such high matters as the subjugation of an 
inferior people. Stalin lives frugally in a three-room apartment, 
dresses inconspicuously and in self-effacing taste, eats frightfully 
simple meals, and sips brandy like a connoisseur.” The question is 
what do these facts signify for us? “Do they indicate that we are 
today in the grip of a coterie of men essentially smug, disastrously 
self-righteous, grimly aware of their tremendous rectitude, and 
hence so dangerous that the world at large would be better off if 
it could entice them on a roaring drunk?” . . . “No man could 
be a dangerous dictator with a hang-over. His sense of God- 
almighty-ness would be wrecked. He would feel himself to have 
been gross and humiliated in the presence of his subjects. He 
would have become one of the masses — one of the lowest of them — 
and the experience would have done something to his insufferable 
conceit.” The writer thinks that should there be an international 
cocktail party, attended only by these chosen leaders, in which “the 


main object would merely be to fry the dignitaries as smoothly 
and as quickly as possible,” the next morning, “Far from being the 
irreproachable supermen of today, the world’s best would have 
become ordinary fellows, afflicted like their meanest followers, and 
perhaps in a frame of mind to grapple with matters as men and 
not as demigods.” 

The reason I don’t like dictators is that they are inhuman, and 
anything which is inhuman is bad. An inhuman religion is no 
religion, inhuman politics is foolish politics, inhuman art is just 
bad art, and the inhuman way of life is the beast’s way of life. 
This test of humanness is universal and can be applied to all walks 
of life and all systems of thought. The greatest ideal that man can 
aspire to is not to be a show-case of virtue, but just to be a genial, 
likable and reasonable human being. 

While the Chinese can teach the Westerners about tea. Western- 
ers can teach the Chinese about wine. A Chinese is easily dazzled 
by the variety of bottles and labels when he enters an American 
wine-shop for wherever he goes, in his own country, he sees 
shaohsing, again shaohsing, and nothing but shaohsing. There are 
six or seven other varieties, and there are distilled liquors from 
millet, the \aoliang, besides the class of medicinal wines, but the 
list is soon exhausted. The Chinese have not developed the nicety 
of serving different drinks with different courses of food. On the 
other hand, the popularity of shaohsing is such at the place giving 
its name to this wine, that there as soon as a girl is born, her 
parents make a jar of wine, so that by the time she marries, she 
is sure to have at least a jar of wine about twenty years old as 
part of her trousseau. Hence the name huatiao, the proper name 
for this wine, which means “florally decorated,” from the jar 

This lack in the variety of wine they make up for by greater 
insistence on the proper moment and surrounding for drinking. 
The feeling for wine is essentially correct. The contrast between 
wine and tea is expressed in the form that “tea resembles the recluse, 
and wine resembles the cavalier; wine is for good comradeship, and 


2 43 

tea is for the man of quiet virtue.” Specifying the proper moods and 
places for drink, a Chinese writer says, “Formal drinking should be 
slow and leisurely, unrestrained drinking should be elegant and ro- 
mantic; a sick person should drink a small quantity, and a sad per- 
son should drink to get drunk. Drinking in the spring should take 
place in a courtyard, in summer in the outskirts of a city, in au- 
tumn on a boat and in winter in the house, and at night it should 
be enjoyed in the presence of the moon.” 

Another writer says, “There is a proper time and place for 
getting drunk. One should get drunk before flowers in the day- 
time, in order to assimilate their light and color; and one should 
get drunk in snow in the night-time, in order to clear his thoughts. 
A man getting drunk when happy at success should sing, in order 
to harmonize his spirit; and a man getting drunk at a farewell party 
should strike a musical tone, in order to strengthen his spirit. A 
drunk scholar should be careful in his conduct, in order to avoid 
humiliations; and a drunk military man should order gallons and 
put up more flags, in order to increase his military splendor. Drink- 
ing in a tower should take place in summer, in order to profit 
from the cool atmosphere; and drinking on the water should 
take place in autumn, in order to increase the sense of elated free- 
dom. These are proper ways of drinking in respect of mood and 
scenery, and to violate these rules is to miss the pleasure of drink- 

The Chinese attitude toward wine and behavior during a wine 
feast is partly incomprehensible or reprehensible to me, and partly 
commendable. The reprehensible part is the custom of getting 
pleasure out of forcing a man to drink beyond his capacity. I am 
not aware that such a practice exists or is common in Western 
society. It is usual among drinkers to place a mystic value upon the 
mere quantity of drinking, whether by oneself, or by those in the 
company. No doubt there is a certain hilarity connected with 
it and such urging is done in a playful or friendly spirit, result- 
ing generally in a lot of noise and hubbub and confusion, which 
adds to the fun of the occasion. It is beautiful to look at when the 


company reach a state when they all forget themselves and the 
guests shout for more wine or leave or exchange their seats, and 
nobody remembers who is the host and who are the guests. It 
usually degenerates into a drinking match, played with great pride 
and subtlety and finesse and always with the desire to see the 
other fellow under the table. One has to be on the lookout for 
foul play, and guard against the other party’s underhanded tactics. 
Probably the fun lies there, in the spirit of contest. 

The commendable side of Chinese drinking lies in the noise. 
Eating at a Chinese restaurant sometimes makes one imagine one 
is attending a football match. How is the volume of noise pro- 
duced and whence come those noises with beautiful rhythm resem- 
bling cheers and yells at a football match? The answer lies in the 
custom of “guessing fingers,” in which each party puts up a 
number of fingers simultaneously with his opponent and shouts 
the number of the total sum of fingers that he guesses will be put 
out by both parties. The numbers, “one, two, three, four,” and 
so on, are given in poetic, polysyllabic phrases like “seven stars” 
( Ch’ich’iao , the constellation “Dipper”), or “eight horses’or “eight 
immortals crossing the sea.” The necessity for perfectly timed and 
simultaneous action in putting out the fingers forces the phrases 
into definite musical beats or bars, into which the varying syllables 
have to be compressed, and these are accompanied during the inter- 
val by a set introductory phrase occupying another musical bar, 
and the song is carried on without interruption rhythmically until 
one party makes a correct conjecture and the other party has to 
drink a full cup, large or small, or two or three, as previously 
agreed. Guessing at the total is not mere blind conjecture, but is 
based on observation of the opponent’s habit of sequence or alterna- 
tion of numbers and demands some quick thinking. The fun 
and swing of the game depends endrely upon the speed and unin- 
terrupted rhythm of the players. 

We have come to the real point about the concepdon of a wine 
party, for this alone gives a satisfactory explanadon of the length 
of a Chinese feast, its number of courses and its method of service. 



One does not sit down at a feast to eat, but to have a good time, 
provided by telling of stories and jokes and all kinds of literary 
puzzles and poetic games between the serving of different dishes. 
The party looks more like a time for oral games, punctuated every 
five or seven or ten minutes with the appearance of a dish on the 
table and a bite or two by the company. This produces two effects: 
first, the vociferousness of oral games undoubtedly helps to let 
the spirituous liquors evaporate from the system, and secondly, by 
the time one comes to the end of a feast lasting over an hour, some 
of the food is already digested, so that the more one eats, the 
more hungry he becomes. Silence after all is a vice during eating; 
it is immoral because it is unhygienic. Any foreigner in China who 
has lasting doubts about the Chinese being a gay and happy 
people with a touch of Latin gaiety, who still clings to the pre- 
conceived notion that the Chinese people are silent, sedate and 
unemotional, should watch them while eating, for then the China- 
man is in his natural element and his moral perfections are com- 
plete. If the Chinaman does not have a good time when he is 
eating, when does he have a good time? 

Famous as the Chinese are for their puzzles, their wine games 
are less well-known. With wine as forfeit, a great variety of games 
have been invented as excuses for drinking. All Chinese novels 
dutifully record the names of dishes served at a dinner, and equally 
dutifully describe the contests of poetry which have no difficulty in 
filling an entire chapter. The feminist novel Chinghuayiian 
describes so many games among the literary girls (including games 
in phonetics), as to seem to make these the main theme of the 

The simplest game is shehfu, in which a syllable forming the 
beginning of one word and the end of another is concealed by 
joining the other syllables into a word, and the player has to guess 
at the missing syllable. Thus “drum” being the syllable common to 
“hum drum" and “Jrarastick,” the puzzle is given in the combina- 
tion “hum-stick” and the other party is to supply the missing 
syllabic. Or given “a-starch,” the other person is to find the missing 


middle syllable “corn” in “aror/2 -cornstarch.” Properly played, the 
person who has guessed at the middle syllable is not to declare it, 
but to form a counter-puzzle with the syllable “corn” and simply 
answer “pop-er” (“pop-corn-corner”), or pop-muffin,” from which 
the original maker of the puzzle is able to tell whether he has 
got the correct answer, while it remains a mystery to the rest 
of those present. Sometimes an answer not originally intended, 
but even better than the one the maker has in mind, has to be 
accepted. Both parties can set syllable-puzzles for each other to 
solve at the same time. Some puzzles are simple and some are 
carefully concealed, as “a-ounce” for the missing syllable “pron,” 
while “cam-ephant” can be easily detected to contain “el” in cam el- 
c/ephant.” Rare and difficult words might be used, and in the prac- 
tice of scholars, rare historical names might be used, taxing one’s 
scholarship: e.g., names from one of Shakespeare’s plays or Balzac’s 

Variations of literary games are infinite. One popular among 
scholars is for each person in turn to say a doggerel line of seven 
words for the other person to follow up with another rhymed line, 
the poem as a whole degenerating into pure nonsense at the end. 
Lines usually begin with some comment on some object or person 
in view, or the scenery. Every person is to say two lines, the first 
one completing a couplet begun by the preceding person, and the 
second leading off a new couplet for the successor to finish. The 
first line sets the rhyme, and the third, fifth, seventh (and so on) 
lines must keep to it. In the milieu of scholars, by whom every name 
and sentence from the Four Boohj or the Boo\ of Poetry has been 
memorized by heart, demands may be made by the toastmaster for 
apt quotations illustrating a topic, (e.g., “Girl shy,” “Girl happy,” 
“Girl cries”). Names of popular ditties, and lines from T’ang 
poems are often included. Or the party may be required to give 
names of medicines or flowers that answer to the description in a 
given title of a popular tune, or, to make the matter appear simpler 
in English, to give names of medicines or flowers that refer to an 
article pertaining to women; e.g., Queen Anne’s lace, fox-glove, etc. 


2 47 

Possibility of such combinations depends on the beauty of names 
given to flowers, medicines, trees, etc. in a language. English family 
names might, for instance, be given to call up names of popular 
songs, (as an instance, “Rockefeller” may suggest “Sit Down, 
You’re Rocking the Boat,” and “Whitehead” may suggest “Silver 
Threads Among the Gold”). The aptness of such juxtapositions 
depends on one’s ingenuity, and the fun of such games lies in 
spontaneity and fanciful, but not necessarily learned, associations. 
Names like “Tugwell,” “Sitwell” and “Frankfurter” can easily 
be made to serve any humorous purpose (for the last I suggest 
“Non-cold Not-Pig”). College students can have a good time mak- 
ing wine games out of their professors’ names. 

More elaborate games require specially designed chips. In the 
novel An Orchid’s Dream, one finds, for instance, a description 
of the following game. Three sets of chips (which may be made 
of paper) contain the following combination of six persons doing 
six things in six places: 


goes horse-riding 

abbot’s room 


says prayers 



Lady’s chamber 






red-light district 




Chips drawn from the three sets by a person may form the weirdest 
combinations: thus, “Abbot flirts in a lady’s room,” “Courtesan 
says prayers in a cemetery,” “Beggar sleeps in the red-light dis- 
trict,” “Butcher embroiders in a thoroughfare,” “Lady fights in an 
Abbot’s room,” etc., all of which would make good newspaper head- 
lines. With some such situation as the main theme, each person 
is to give a five-word line from a poem, followed by the name of 
a song, and concluded by a line from the Boo\ of Poetry, the whole 
to make an apt description of the situation. 

It is no wonder therefore that a wine feast easily lasts two hours. 
The object of a dinner is not to eat and drink, but to join in merry- 
making and to make a lot of noise. For that reason, he who drinks 


half drinks best. Like the poet T’ao Yiianming playing upon a 
stringless instrument, for the drinker the sentiment is the thing. 
And one may enjoy the sentiment for wine without the capacity 
to drink it. “There are people who cannot read a single word, but 
have the sentiment for poetry; people who cannot repeat a single 
prayer but have the sentiment for religion; people who cannot touch 
a drop but have the sentiment for wine; and people who do not 
understand a thing about rocks, but have the sentiment for paint- 
ing.” It is such people who are fit company for poets, saints, 
drinkers and painters. 

VII. On Food and Medicine 

A broader view of food should regard it essentially as including 
all things that go to nourish us, just as a broader view of house 
should include everything pertaining to living conditions. As we 
are all animals, it is but common sense to say that we are what we 
eat. Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our 
cooks. Hence every Chinese gentleman tries to befriend his cook, 
because so much of the enjoyment of life lies within his power 
to give or to take away as he sees fit. Chinese, and I suppose West- 
ern, parents always try to befriend the wet-nurse and treat her roy- 
ally, because they realize that the health of their baby depends on 
the temper and happiness and general living conditions of the wet- 
nurse. Pari passu, we should give our cooks who feed us the same 
royal treatment, if we care as much for our own health as we care 
for that of our babies. If a man will be sensible and one fine morn- 
ing, when he is lying in bed, count at the tips of his fingers how 
many things in this life truly give him enjoyment, invariably he 
will find food is the first one. Therefore it is the invariable test of 
a wise man whether he has good food at home or not. 

The tempo of modern city life is such that we are giving less and 
less time and thought to the matter of cooking and feeding. A 
housewife who is at the same time a brilliant journalist can hardly 
be blamed for serving her husband with canned soup and beans. 



Nevertheless, it is a pretty crazy life when one eats in order to 
work and does not work in order to eat. We need a certain kind- 
ness and generosity to ourselves before we learn kindness and 
generosity to others. What good does it do a woman to do some 
muckraking for the city and improve general social conditions, if 
she herself has to cook on a two-burner range and allow ten 
minutes for eating her meal? Confucius undoubtedly would di- 
vorce her, as he divorced his wife for failure in good cooking. 

The story is not exactly clear as to whether Confucius divorced 
her or she just had to run away in order to flee from the demands 
of this fastidious artist of life. For him “rice could never be white 
enough and mince meat could never be chopped fine enough.” 
He refused to eat “when meat was not served with its proper 
sauce,” “when it was not cut square,” “when its color was not 
right,” and “when its flavor was not right.” I am quite sure that 
even then his wife could have stood it, but when one day, unable 
to find fresh food, she sent her son Li to buy wine and cold meat 
from some delicatessen and be through with it, and he announced 
that he “would not drink wine that was not homemade, nor taste 
meat that was bought from the shops,” what else could she do except 
pack up and run away ? This insight into the psychology of Confu- 
cius’ wife is mine, but the severe conditions that he imposed upon 
his poor wife stands there today in the Confucian classics . 1 

Taking then the broader view of food as nourishment, the Chi- 
nese do not draw any distinction between food and medicine. 
What is good for the body is medicine and at the same time food. 
Modern science has only in the last century come to realize the 
importance of diet in curing diseases, and happily today all mod- 
ern hospitals are well equipped with trained dietitians. If modern 
doctors would carry it a step further, and send these dietitians to 
be trained in China, they might have less use for their glass bottles. 
An early medical writer. Sun Sscmiao (sixth century, A. D.), says: 
“A true doctor first finds out the cause of the disease, and having 
found that out, he tries to cure it first by food. When food fails, 

1 Analects, Ch. X. 



then he prescribes medicine.” Thus we find the earliest existing Chi- 
nese book on food, written by an Imperial physician at the Mongol 
Court in 1330, regards food essentially as a matter of regimen for 
health, and makes the introductory remarks: “He who would take 
good care of his health should be sparing in his tastes, banish his 
worries, temper his desires, restrain his emotions, take good care 
of his vital force, spare his words, regard lightly success and failure, 
ignore sorrows and difficulties, drive away foolish ambitions, avoid 
great likes and dislikes, calm his vision and his hearing, and be 
faithful in his internal regimen. How can one have sickness if he 
does not tire his spirits and worry his soul? Therefore he who 
would nourish his nature should eat only when he is hungry and 
not fill himself with food, and he should drink only when he is 
thirsty and not fill himself with too much drink. He should eat 
little and between long intervals, and not too much and too con- 
stantly. He should aim at being a little hungry when well-filled, and 
being a little well-filled when hungry. Being well-filled hurts the 
lungs and being hungry hurts the flow of vital energy.” This cook 
book, like all Chinese cook books, therefore reads like a pharma- 

Walking down Honan Road in Shanghai and passing through 
the shops selling Chinese medicine, one might find it hard to de- 
cide whether they sell more medicine than food or more food 
than medicine. For there one finds cinnamon bark standing side 
by side with ham, tiger’s tendons and beaver kidneys along with 
sea slugs, and horns of young deer along with mushrooms and 
Peiping dates. All of them are good for the body and all of them 
nourish us. The distinction between food and medicine is posi- 
tively impossible in the case of a bottle of “tiger-tendon and quince 
wine.” Happily a Chinese tonic does not consist of three grams 
of hypophosphate and .02 grains of arsenic. It consists of a bowl of 
black-skinned chicken soup, cooked with rehmannia lutea. This 
is due entirely to the practice of Chinese medicine, for while 
Western medicines are taken in pills or tablets, Chinese medicines 
are served as stews and literally called “soups.” And Chinese 



medicine is conceived and prepared in the same manner as ordinary 
soup, with proper regard for mixing of the flavors and ingredients. 
There are anywhere from seven or eight to twenty ingredients in 
a Chinese stew, so designed as to nourish and strengthen the 
body as a whole, and not to attack the disease solely. For Chinese 
medicine essentially agrees with the most up-to-date Western medi- 
cine in thinking that, when a man’s liver is sick, it is not his liver 
alone but the entire body that is sick. After all, all that medicine 
can do comes down to the essential principle of strengthening our 
vital energy, through acting on this most highly complicated sys- 
tem of organs and fluids and hormones called the human body, 
and letting the body cure itself. Instead of giving patients aspirin 
tablets, Chinese doctors would therefore ask them to take large 
bowls of medicinal tea to produce perspiration. And instead of 
taking quinine tablets, the patients of the future world might 
conceivably be required to drink a bowl of rich turtle soup with 
mushrooms, cooked with pieces of cinchona bark. The dietetics 
department of a modern hospital will have to be enlarged, and the 
future hospital itself will very nearly resemble a sanatorium-res- 
taurant. Eventually we have to come to a conception of health 
and disease by which the two merge into each other, when men 
eat in order to prevent disease instead of taking medicine in order to 
cure it. This point is not stressed enough in the West, for the West- 
erners go to see a doctor only when they are sick, and do not see 
him when they are well. Before that time comes, the distinction 
between medicine which nourishes the body and medicine which 
cures disease will have to be abolished. 

We have, therefore, to congratulate the Chinese people on their 
happy confusion of medicine and food. This makes their medicine 
less of a medicine, but makes their food more of a food. There 
seems to be a symbolic significance in the fact that the God of 
Gluttony appeared even in our semi-historical period, the God 
T’aotieh being found today as a favorite motif among our earliest 
bronze and stone sculptures. The spirit of T’aot’ieh is in us. It 
makes our pharmacopoeias resemble our cook books and our cook 


books resemble a pharmacopoeia, and it makes the rise of botany 
and zoology as branches of the natural science impossible, for the 
Chinese scientists are thinking all the time of how a snake, a 
monkey, or a crocidile’s flesh or a camel’s hump would taste. True 
scientific curiosity in China is a gastronomic curiosity. 

With the confusion of medicine and magic, found in all savage 
tribes, and with the Chinese Taoists making the “nourishment of 
life” and the search after immortality or long life their central 
object, we find that food and medicine often lie in their hands. In 
the Imperial Cook Book of the Mongol Dynasty referred to above, 
Yinshan Chengyao, there are chapters devoted to preserving long 
life and warding off disease. With the Taoist passionate devotion 
to Nature, the tendency is always to emphasize fruits and food of 
a vegetarian nature. There is a sort of combination of poetry and 
Taoist detachment from life, regarding the eating of fresh lotus 
seeds with their delicate flavor born of the dew as the height of a 
scholar’s refined pleasure. He would drink the dew itself, if he 
could. In this class belong the seeds of pine trees, arrowroot and 
Chinaroot, which are all regarded as tending toward long life, 
because they clarify one’s heart and purify one’s soul. One is not 
supposed to have mortal desires, like the desire for women, when 
eating a lotus seed. More like medicine and constantly taken as 
part of one’s food and highly valued for prolonging life are as- 
paragus lucidus, rehmannia lutea, lycium chinense, atratylis ovata, 
polygonatum giganteum, and particularly ginseng and astragalus 

The Chinese pharmacopoeia offers an immense field waiting 
for Western scientific research. Western medicine has only within 
the past decade discovered the blood-building value of liver, while 
Chinese have all along regarded it as an important tonic for old 
people. I have a suspicion that when a Western butcher kills a pig, 
he throws away all the parts that have the greatest nourishing 
food value — kidneys, stomachs, intestines (which must be full of 
gastric juice), blood, bone marrow and brains. It is beginning to 
be discovered that the bone is the place where the red corpuscles 



of one’s blood are manufactured, and I cannot help thinking the 
throwing away of mutton bones and pig’s bones and cow’s bones 
without stewing them into a fine soup is a terrific waste of food 

There are many Western foods that I like, and first of all I 
must mention the honeydew melon, because its suggestion of dew 
is so Chinese. Also, if an ancient Chinese Taoist were given a 
grapefruit, he might imagine that he had discovered the elixir of 
immortality, for it was the exotic flavor of strange and unknown 
fruits that the Taoists were looking for. Tomato juice must be 
ranked as one of the greatest Western discoveries in the twentieth 
century, for the Chinese, like the Westerners of a century ago, 
used to consider tomatoes not fit for eating. Next comes the eat- 
ing of raw celery, which comes nearest to the Chinese idea of 
eating food for texture, as with bamboo shoots. Asparagus is fine, 
when it is not green, but it is not unknown in China. Finally I 
must confess to a great liking for English roast beef, and for all 
roasts. Every food is good when cooked and tasted in its own 
country and in its proper season. I have always liked American 
food when it is served in American homes, but have never yet tasted 
food that impressed me as good in the best hotels of New York. 
The fault is not due to hotels or restaurants, for even in Chinese 
restaurants, it is impossible to get good food unless with long 
notice and unless it is prepared with individual care. 

On the other hand, there are glaring deficiencies in American 
and European cuisine. Far ahead in bakery and the making of 
sweets and desserts, Western cuisine strikes one as being pretty 
dull and insipid and extremely limited in variety. After eating in 
any hotel or boarding house or steamship for three weeks, and 
after one has had chicken a la king, prime ribs of beef and lamb 
chops and filet for the thirteenth time, the food begins to pall on 
one’s palate. The most undeveloped branch of Western cooking is 
that of preparing vegetables. In the first place, vegetables are ex- 
tremely limited in variety; in the second place, they are merely boiled 
in water; and in the third place, they are always over-cooked until 


they lose their color and look mushy. Spinach, the calamity of all 
children, is never cooked properly; it is cooked until it becomes 
mushy, whereas if it is fried on a very hot pan with oil and salt 
and taken away before it loses its crispness, it is one of the most 
palatable of foods. Lettuce prepared in the same manner is also 
delightful, the only consideration being not to allow it to stand 
in the pan for too long. Chicken liver is considered a delicacy in 
the West, and even grilled lamb kidneys, but there is a large 
number of foods of the same class which have not even been ex- 
perimented upon. This explains the lack of variety in Western 
food. Fried chicken gizzard, along with fried chicken liver, dipped 
in salt, is among the commonest dishes in China. Carp’s head, with 
its delicate flesh around the cheeks and jowl, is served as a special 
dish of great delicacy. Pig’s tripe is my favorite food, and for that 
matter, certain parts of the ox’s tripe. It makes a delicious soup 
with noodles, or it may be thrown into boiling soup over an ex- 
tremely hot fire and immediately taken out, so that it has a crisp- 
ness almost like that of raw celery. Large snails (meaning only 
the thick covering at their mouth) are a delicacy much sought 
after in France, and they are also a delicacy in China. In taste 
and texture and resistance to the teeth, they are practically the 
same as abalones and scallops. 

The lack of variety of soups is due to two causes. First, the lack 
of experiment on mixtures of vegetables with meat. By combi- 
nations and permutations, five or six ingredients, like dried shrimp, 
mushroom, bamboo-shoot, melon, pork, etc., can give a hundred 
varieties of different soups. Melon soup is unknown in the West, 
and yet, made with different varieties and prepared with a dash 
of dried shrimp, it is one of the most delicious dishes in summer. 
Secondly, the lack of variety in soup is due to failure to make full 
use of sea food. Scallops are always fried in the West, but dried 
scallops are one of the most important elements for making good 
soup, and so is abalone. As for clam chowder, I never smell the 
clam in it, and one, of course, never sees turtle flesh in turde soup. 
A real turtle soup, cooked until it is sticky on the lips, is one of 


2 55 

the favorite Cantonese dishes, sometimes being prepared with the 
webbed feet of ducks or geese. The Shaohsing people of Chekiang 
have a favorite dish called “the big corners,” consisting of the wings 
and legs of chicken, because there is a happy combination of skin 
and tendon and meat in chicken wings and feet. The best soup 
I have tasted, however, is the soup of bastard carp and small soft- 
shell clams combined. The test of soup generally made from shell 
food is that it should not be oily. 

As an instance of Chinese feeling about food, I may quote here 
from Li Liweng’s essay on “Crabs” in the section on food in his 
Art of Living. 

There is nothing in food and drink whose flavor I cannot 
describe with the utmost understanding and imagination. But 
as for crabs, my heart likes them, my mouth relishes them, 
and I can never forget them for a year and a day, but find it 
impossible to describe in words why I like them, relish them, 
and can never forget them. Ah, this thing has indeed become 
for me a weakness in food, and is in itself a strange phenome- 
non of the universe. All my days I have been extremely fond 
of it. Every year before the crab season comes, I set aside 
some money for the purpose and because my family say that 
“crab is my life,” I call this money “my life ransom.” From 
the day it appears on the market to the end of the season, I 
have never missed it for a night. My friends who know this 
weakness of mine always invite me to dinner at this season, 
and I therefore call October and November “crab autumn.” 
... I used to have a maid quite devoted to attending to the 
care and preparation of crabs and I called her “my crab maid.” 
Now she is gone! O crab! my life shall begin and end with 

The reason that Li finally gave for his appreciation of crab was 
that it was perfect in the three requisites of food — color, fragrance 
and flavor. Li’s feeling about crabs is quite generally shared by 
Chinese of all classes today, the kind eaten being from freshwater 

For me, the philosophy of food seems to boil down to three 
things: freshness, flavor and texture. The best cook in the world 


cannot make a savory dish unless he has fresh things to cook with, 
and any good cook can tell you that half the art of cooking lies in 
buying. Yuan Tsets’ai, the great epicure and poet of the seven- 
teenth century, wrote beautifully about his cook as a man carrying 
himself with great dignity who absolutely refused to cook a dish 
ordered unless the thing was in its best season. The cook had a 
bad temper, but confessed that he continued to serve the poet 
because the latter understood flavor. Today there is a cook over 
sixty years old in Szechuen who must be courteously invited to 
prepare a dinner for some special occasion, and who must be 
given a week’s notice to collect and buy things and must be left 
entirely free to be the sole lord and judge of the menu to be served. 

For the common people who cannot afford expensive cooks, 
there is comfort in the knowledge that anything tastes good in its 
season, and that it is always better to depend upon nature than 
upon culture to furnish us with the greatest epicurean delights. 
For this reason, people who have their own garden or who live 
in the country may be quite sure that they have the best food, al- 
though they may not have the best cook. For the same reason, 
food ought to be tasted in its place of origin, before any judgment 
can be pronounced upon it. But for a wife who does not know 
how to buy fresh food or a man who is willing to put up with cold 
storage foods, any discussion of epicurean values is futile. 

The texture of food, as regards tenderness, elasticity, crispness 
and softness, is largely a matter of timing and adjusting the heat 
of the fire. Chinese restaurants can produce dishes not possible in 
the home because they are equipped with a fine oven. As for flavor, 
there are clearly two classes of food, those that are best served in 
their own juice, without adulteration except salt or soya bean sauce, 
and those that taste best when they are combined with the flavor 
of another food. Thus, in the case of fish, fresh mandarin fish or 
trout should be prepared in its natural juice to get its full flavor, 
while more fatty fish like the shad tastes best with Chinese pickled 
beans. The American succotash is an example of the perfect com- 
bination of tastes. There are certain flavors in nature which seem to 



be made for each other and reach their highest degree of delec- 
tability only in combination with each other. Bamboo shoot and 
pork seem to make a perfect pair, each borrowing its fragrance 
from the other and lending it in return its own. Ham somehow 
combines well with the sweet flavor, and one of the proudest dishes 
of my cook in Shanghai is ham with rich Peking golden dates, 
steamed together in a casserole. So does black tree fungus combine 
perfectly with duck’s egg in soup, and New York lobster combine 
with Chinese pickled bean-curd sauce ( nanju ). In fact, there is 
a large class of eatables whose chief function seems to be to lend 
their flavor to others — mushroom, bamboo shoots, Szechuen 
tsat/ai, etc. And there is a large class of food, most valued by the 
Chinese, which have no flavor of their own, and depend entirely 
on borrowing from others. 

The three necessary characteristics of the most expensive Chinese 
delicacies are that they must be colorless, odorless, and flavorless. 
These articles are shark’s fin, birds’ nest and the “silver fungus.” 
All of them are gelatinous in quality and all have no color, taste or 
smell. The reason why they taste so wonderful is because they are 
always prepared in the most expensive soup possible. 

VIII. Some Curious Western Customs 

One great difference between Oriental and Occidental civiliza- 
tions is that the Westerners shake each other’s hands, while we 
shake our own. Of all the ridiculous Western customs, I think that 
of shaking hands is one of the worst. I may be very progressive and 
able to appreciate Western art, literature, American silk stockings, 
Parisian perfumes and even British battleships, but I cannot see 
how the progressive Europeans could allow this barbarous custom 
of shaking hands to persist to the present day. I know there are 
private groups of individuals in the West who protest against this 
custom, as there are people who protest against the equally ridicu- 
lous custom of wearing hats or collars. But these people don’t seem 
to be making any headway, being apparently taken for men who 


make mountains of molehills and waste their energy on trivialities. 
I am one of these men who are always interested in trivialities. As a 
Chinese, I am bound to feel more strongly against this Western 
custom than the Europeans, and prefer always to shake my own 
hands when meeting or parting from people, according to the time- 
honored etiquette of the Celestial Empire. 

Of course, everyone knows this custom is the survival of the 
barbaric days of Europe, like the other custom of taking off one’s 
hat. These customs originated with the medieval robber barons 
and chevaliers, who had to lift their visors or take off their steel 
gaundets to show that they were friendly or peacefully disposed 
toward the other fellow. Of course it is ridiculous in modern days to 
repeat the same gestures when we are no longer wearing helmets or 
gauntlets, but survivals of barbaric customs will always persist, as 
witness, for instance, the persistence of duels down to the present 

I object to this custom for hygienic and many other reasons. 
Shaking hands is a form of human contact subject to the finest 
variations and distinctions. An original American graduate student 
could very well write a doctorate dissertation on a “Time-and- 
motion Study of the Varieties of Hand-Shaking,” reviewing it, in 
the approved fashion, as regards pressure, duration of time, humidity, 
emotional response, and so forth, and further studying it under all 
its possible variations as regards sex, the height of the person con- 
cerned (giving us undoubtedly many “types of marginal differ- 
ences”), the condition of the skin as affected by professional work 
and social classes, etc. With a few charts and tables of percentages, 
I am sure a candidate would have no difficulty in getting a Ph.D., 
provided he made the whole thing sufficiently abstruse and tire- 

Now consider the hygienic objections. The foreigners in Shanghai, 
who describe our copper coins as regular reservoirs of bacteria and 
will not touch them, apparently think nothing of shaking hands with 
any Tom, Dick or Harry in the street. This is really highly illogical, 
for how are you to know that Tom, Dick or Harry has not touched 



those coppers which you shun like poison? What is worse is, some- 
times you may see a consumptive-looking man who hygienically 
covers his mouth with his hands while coughing and in the next 
moment stretches his hand to give you a friendly shake. In this 
respect, our celestial customs are really more scientific, for in China, 
each of us shakes his own hand. I don’t know what was the origin 
of this Chinese custom, but its advantage from a medical or 
hygienic point of view cannot be denied. 

Then there are aesthetic and romantic objections to handshaking. 
When you put out your hand, you are at the mercy of the other 
person, who is at liberty to shake it as hard as he likes and hold 
it as long as he likes. As the hand is one of the finest and most 
responsive organs in our body, every possible variety of pressure is 
possible. First you may have the Y. M. C. A. type of handshaking; 
the man pats you on the shoulder with one hand and gives you a vio- 
lent shake with the other until all your joints are ready to burst 
within you. In the case of a Y. M. C. A. secretary who is at the 
same time a baseball player with a powerful grip, and the two often 
go together, his victim often does not know whether to scream or 
to laugh. Coupled with his straightforward self-assertive manner, 
this type of handshaking practically seems to say, “Look here, you 
are now in my power. You must buy a ticket for the next meeting 
or promise to take back with you a pamphlet by Sherwood Eddy 
before I’ll let your hand go.” Under such circumstances I am always 
very prompt with my pocketbook. 

Coming down the scale, we find different varieties of pressure, 
from the indifferent handshake which has utterly lost all meaning, 
to that kind of furtive, tremulous, retiring handshake which indi- 
cates that the owner is afraid of you, and finally to the elegant 
society lady who condescends to offer you the very tip of her 
fingers in a manner that almost suggests that you look at her red- 
painted fingernails. All kinds of human relationships, therefore, 
are reflected in this form of physical contact between two persons. 
Some novelists profess that you can tell a man’s character from his 
type of handshake, distinguishing between the assertive, the retir- 


ing, the dishonest and the weak and clammy hands which in- 
stinctively repel one. I wish to be spared the trouble of analyzing 
a person’s moral character every time I have to meet him, or read- 
ing from the degree of his pressure the increase or decrease of his 
affection towards me. 

More senseless still is the custom of taking off one’s hat. Here 
we find all kinds of nonsensical rules of etiquette. Thus a lady 
should keep her hat on during church service or during afternoon 
tea indoors. Whether this custom of wearing hats in church has 
anything to do with the customs of Asia Minor in the first century 
A. D. or not, I do not profess to know, but I suspect it comes from a 
senseless following of St. Paul’s injunction that women should have 
their heads covered in church while men should not, being based 
thus on an Asiatic philosophy of sexual inequality which the West- 
erners have so long repudiated. For the men, there is that ridiculous 
custom of taking off one’s hat in an elevator when there are ladies 
in it. There can be absolutely no defense for this meaningless 
custom. In the first place, the elevator is but a continuation of the 
corridor, and if men are not required to take off their hats in a 
corridor, why should they be made to do so in a lift? Any one would 
see the utter senselessness of it all, if he happens to pass from one 
floor to another in the same building with a hat on. In the second 
place, the elevator cannot by any logical analysis be distinguished 
from other types of conveyance, the motor car, for instance. If a 
man can, with a free conscience, keep his hat on while driving in 
a motor car in the company of ladies, why should he be forbidden 
from doing the same in a lift? 

All in all, this is a very crazy world of ours. But I am not sur- 
prised. After all, we see human stupidity around us everywhere, 
from the stupidity of modern international relations to that of the 
modern educational system. Mankind may be intelligent enough to 
invent the radio and wireless telephones, but mankind is simply not 
intelligent enough to stop wars, nor will ever be. So I am willing 
to let stupidity in the more trivial things go by, and content merely 
to be amused. 



IX. The Inhumanity of Western Dress 

In spite of the popularity of Western dress among the modern 
Turks, Egyptians, Hindus, Japanese and Chinese, and in spite of 
its universality as the official diplomatic costume in the entire world, 
I still cling to the old Chinese dress. Many of my best friends have 
asked me why I wear Chinese instead of foreign dress. And those 
people call themselves my friends! They might just as well ask me 
why I stand on two legs. The two happen to be related, as I shall try 
to show. Why must I give a reason for wearing the only “human” 
dress in the world? Need anyone who in his native garb prac- 
tically goes about the house and outside in his pyjamas and slippers 
give reasons why he does not like to be encased in a system of suf- 
focating collars, vests, belts, braces and garters? The prestige of 
the foreign dress rests on no more secure basis than the fact that 
it is associated with superior gunboats and Diesel engines. It can- 
not be defended on esthetic, moral, hygienic or economic grounds. 
Its superiority is simply and purely political. 

Is my attitude merely a pose, or symptomatic of my progress in 
knowledge of Chinese philosophy? I hardly think so. In taking 
this attitude, I am supported by all the thinking persons of my 
generation in China. The Chinese dress is worn by all Chinese 
gentlemen. Furthermore, all the scholars, thinkers, bankers and 
people who made good in China either have never worn foreign 
dress, or have swiftly come back to their native dress the moment 
thy have “arrived” politically, financially or socially. They have 
swiftly come back because they are sure of themselves and no 
longer feel the need for a coat of foreign appearance to hide their 
bad English or their inferior mental outfit. No Shanghai kidnaper 
would think of kidnaping a Chinese in foreign clothes, for the 
simple reason that he is not worth the candle. Who are the people 
wearing foreign clothes today in China? The college students, the 
clerks earning a hundred a month, the political busybodies who 
are always on the point of landing a job, the tangpu 1 young men, 

1 Kuomintang party office. 



the nouveaux riches, the nincompoops, the feebleminded. . . . And 
then, of course, last but not least, we have Henry P’uyi, who has 
the incomparably bad taste to adopt a foreign name, foreign dress, 
and a pair of dark spectacles. That outfit of his alone will kill 
all his chances of coming back to the Dragon Throne, even if he 
has all the bayonets of the Mikado behind him. For you may 
tell any lies to the Chinese people, but you cannot convince them 
that the fellow who wears a foreign dress and dark spectacles is 
their “emperor.” So long as he wears that foreign dress and so long 
as he calls himself Henry, Henry will be perfectly at home in the 
dockyards of Liverpool, but not on a Dragon Throne. 

Now the philosophy behind Chinese and Western dress is that 
the latter tries to reveal the human form, while the former tries to 
conceal it. But as the human body is essentially like the monkeys’, 
usually the less of it revealed the better. Think of Gandhi in his 
loin-cloth! Only in a world of people blind in sense of beauty is the 
foreign dress tolerable. It is a platitude that the perfect human 
figure rarely exists. Let any one who doubts this go to Coney Island 
and see how beautiful real human forms are. But the Western dress 
is so designed that any man in the street can tell whether your 
waistline is thirty-two or thirty-eight. Why must one proclaim to 
the world that his waistline is thirty-two, and if it happens to be 
above normal, why can he not have the right to make it his private 

That is why I also believe in the foreign dress for young women 
of good figure between twenty and forty and for all children whose 
natural bodily rhythm has not yet been subjected to our uncivilized 
form of living. But to demand that all men and women reveal their 
figure to the eyes of the world is another story. While the graceful 
woman in foreign evening dress shines and charms in a way not 
even remotely dreamed of by the Oriental costume-makers, the 
average over-fed and over-slept lady of forty who finds herself in 
the golden horseshoe at an opera premiere is also one of the eyesores 
invented by the West. The Chinese dress is kinder to them. Like 


death, it levels the great and the small, the beautiful and the ugly. 
The Chinese dress is therefore more democratic. 

So much for the esthetic considerations. Now for the reasons of 
hygiene and common sense. No sane-minded man can pretend that 
the collar, that survival of Cardinal Richelieu’s and Sir Walter 
Raleigh’s times, is conducive to health, and all thinking men in the 
West have repeatedly protested against it. While the Western 
female dress has achieved a large measure of comfort in this respect 
formerly denied to the fair sex, the male human neck is still con- 
sidered by the Western educated public as so ugly and immoral 
and socially unpresentable that it must be concealed as much as 
his waisdine must be revealed. That satanic device makes proper 
ventilation impossible in summer, proper protection against cold 
impossible in winter and proper thinking impossible at all times. 

From the collar downwards, it is a story of continuous and un- 
mitigated outrage of common sense. The clever foreigner who can 
invent Neon lights and Diesel engines has not enough common 
sense to see that the only part of his body which is free is his 
head. But why go into details — the tight-fitting underwear, which 
interferes with free ventiladon, the vest which allows for no bend- 
ing of the body, and the braces or the belt which allow for no 
natural difference in different states of nutrition? Of these, the 
least logical is the vest. Anybody who studies the natural forms of 
the naked human body knows that, except when in a perfectly 
straight position, the lines of the back and the front are never 
equal. Anyone who wears a stiff shirt front also knows by experi- 
ence that it bulges every time the body bends forward. But the 
vest is designed on the assumption that these lines remain always 
equal, which compels one to keep in a perfectly straight position. 
As no one actually lives up to this standard, the consequence is 
that the end of the vest either protrudes or falls into creases pressing 
on the body at every movement. In the case of a male victim of 
obesity, the vest describes a protruding arc and invariably ends in 
the air, from which point the receding arc is taken up by the belt 
and the pants. Can anything invented by the human mind be 


more grotesque? Is it any wonder that a nudist movement has 
sprung up as a protest and a reaction against this grotesque bond- 
age of the human body? 

But if mankind were still in the quadruped stage, there could be 
some justification for the belt, which then could be adjusted as the 
saddle strap is adjusted on the horse. But, while mankind has 
adopted the erect position, his belt is designed on the assumption 
that he is still a quadruped, just as anatomy of the peritoneal 
muscles shows that these are designed for the quadruped position 
with all weight suspended from the backbone. The disastrous con- 
sequence of this erect position is that, while human mothers are 
liable to miscarriage and abortion, from which animals are exempt, 
the belt of the male dress also has a tendency to gravitate down- 
wards. The only way to prevent this is to keep the belt so tight 
that it does not gravitate, but also widi the result that it interferes 
with all natural intestinal movements. 

I am quite convinced that when the Westerners have made more 
progress in the impersonal things, they will one day also come to 
devote more time to their personal things and exercise more com- 
mon sense in the matter of dress. Western men are paying a severe 
penalty for their conservatism in this matter of dress and for their 
fear of innovation, while Western women long ago achieved sim- 
plicity and common sense in their dress. To speak not for the imme- 
diate decades but for the distant centuries, I am quite convinced that 
men will eventually evolve a dress for themselves that is logical 
and consistent with their biped position, as is already achieved in 
women’s dress. Gradually all cumbersome belts and braces will be 
eliminated and men’s dress will be so designed that it hangs 
naturally down from the shoulder in a sort of graceful and fitting 
form. There will be no meaningless padded shoulders and lapels, 
and in place of the present design, there will be a much more com- 
fortable type of dress, more nearly resembling the house jacket. 
As I see it, the great difference then between men’s dress and 
women’s dress will be only that men wear pants while women 
wear skirts. So far as the upper part of the body is concerned, the 


same essential consideration of ease and comfort will prevail. Men’s 
necks will be just as free as women’s, the vest will correspondingly 
disappear and the jacket will be used exacdy to the same extent as 
women’s coats are used today. Most of the time men will go about 
without their jackets as women are doing today. 

This involves, of course, a revolution in our present conception 
of the shirt. Instead of being something to be worn inside, it will 
be made of darker material and worn outside, from the lightest silk 
to the heaviest woollen material, according to the season, and cut 
accordingly for better appearance. And then they can slip the jacket 
on, whenever they want to, but more for consideration of the 
weather than for formality, for this future apparel will be prac- 
tically correct and acceptable in any company. In order to destroy 
the insufferable belts and suspenders, there will be a kind of com- 
bination shirt and pants, to be slipped over the head as women’s 
dresses are slipped over now, with certain adjustments, pretended 
or real, around the waist to bring out the figure better. 

Even at present, a reform is possible for the elimination of the 
belt or suspenders while maintaining the present pattern of men’s 
dress. The whole principle is: weight should be suspended from 
the shoulders and evenly distributed, and should not be clamped on 
to the vertical wall of the abdomen by sheer force of adhesion, fric- 
tion and compression, and the human male waist should be 
liberated from its duty as a bottleneck, to the end that a system of 
loose-fitting undergarments may become possible. If we start on the 
road of progress without the vest, men can just have their shirts but- 
toned to the pants, as children’s dresses are today. In time, then, as 
the shirt becomes outside apparel, it will be made of finer material, 
probably of the same color and quality as the pants, or matching 
them. Or if we start on dress reform with the vest as a necessary 
part, we should have a combination vest and pants, preserving their 
present form, but made of one piece, the back of the vest being 
reduced to two diagonal straps. Even at the present time, belts and 
suspenders can easily be eliminated by having six little appendages, 
four in front and two behind, sewed on to the inside of the vest, 



with buttonholes to fit into the buttons on the pants. As the vest 
comes outside the pants, there will be no visible difference from 
vests as they are worn at present. Once the innovations are started 
and men begin to think that their present dress designs are not co- 
eternal with the universe, it will be possible to gradually modify 
and eliminate the vest itself, by having this combination garment so 
cut as to be better looking than an overall, but still going on the 
same principle. 

It requires no imagination to see that for adjustment to varying 
climatic conditions, the Chinese dress is also the only logical mode. 
While the Westerner is compelled to wear underwear, one shirt, 
perhaps one vest and one coat, whether the weather temperature is 
below zero or above a hundred, the Chinese dress is infintely flex- 
ible. There is a story told of the fond Chinese mother who puts 
one gown on her boy when he sneezes once, puts on another when 
he sneezes twice, and puts on a third when he sneezes thrice. No 
Western mother can do that; she would be at her wit’s end at the 
third sneeze. All she can do is to call for the doctor. I am led to 
believe that the only thing which saves the Chinese nation from 
extermination by tuberculosis and pneumonia is the cotton-padded 

X. On House and Interiors 

The word “house” should include all the living conditions or the 
physical environment of one’s house. For everyone knows it is 
more important in selecting a house to see what one looks out on 
from the house than what one sees in it. The location of the 
country and its surrounding landscape are the thing. I have seen 
rich men in Shanghai very proud of a tiny plot of land that they 
own, which includes a fish pond about ten feet across and an 
artificial hill that takes ants three minutes to crawl to the top, not 
knowing that many a poor man lives in a hut on a mountain side 
and owns the entire view of the hillside, the river and the lake as 
his private garden. There is absolutely no comparison between the 
two. There are houses situated in such beautiful scenery up in the 



mountains that there is no point whatsoever in fencing off a piece 
of land as one’s own, because wherever he wanders, he owns the 
entire landscape, including the white clouds nestling against the 
hills, the birds flying in the sky and the natural symphony of fall- 
ing cataracts and birds’ song. That man is rich, rich beyond compari- 
son with any millionaire living in a city. A man living in a city 
may see sailing clouds, too, but he seldom sees them actually, and 
when he does, the clouds are not set off against an outline of blue 
hills, and then what is the point of seeing clouds? The background 
is all wrong. 

The Chinese conception of house and garden is therefore de- 
termined by the central idea that the house itself is only a detail 
forming a part of the surrounding country, like a jewel in its set- 
ting, and harmonizing with it. For this reason, all signs of artifi- 
ciality must be hidden as much as possible, and the rectilinear lines 
of the walls must be hidden or broken by overhanging branches. 
A perfecdy square house, shaped like a magnified piece of brick, is 
justifiable in a factory building, because it is a factory building 
where efficiency is the first consideration. But a perfectly square 
house for a home to live in is an atrocity of the first order. The 
Chinese conception of an ideal home has been succinctly expressed 
by a writer in the following manner: 

Inside the gate there is a footpath and the footpath must be 
winding. At the turning of the footpath there is an outdoor 
screen and the screen must be small. Behind the screen there 
is a terrace and the terrace must be level. On the banks of 
the terrace there are flowers and the flowers must be fresh. 
Beyond the flowers is a wall and the wall must be low. By the 
side of the wall, there is a pine tree and the pine tree must be 
old. At the foot of the pine tree there are rocks and the rocks 
must be quaint. Over the rocks there is a pavilion and the 
pavilion must be simple. Behind the pavilion are bamboos and 
the bamboos must be thin and sparse. At the end of the bam- 
boos there is a house and the house must be secluded. By the 
side of the house there is a road and the road must branch off. 

At the point where several roads come together, there is a 



bridge and the bridge must be tantalizing to cross. At the end 
of the bridge there are trees and the trees must be tall. In the 
shade of the trees there is grass and the grass must be green. 
Above the grass plot there is a ditch and the ditch must be 
slender. At the top of the ditch there is a spring and the spring 
must gurgle. Above the spring there is a hill and the hill must 
be deep. Below the hill there is a hall and the hall must be 
square. At the corner of the hall there is a vegetable garden 
and the vegetable garden must be big. In the vegetable garden 
there is a stork and the stork must dance. The stork announces 
that there is a guest and the guest must not be vulgar. When 
the guest arrives there is wine and wine must not be declined. 
During the service of the wine, there is drunkenness and the 
drunken guest must not want to go home. 

The charm of a house lies in its individuality. Li Liweng has 
several chapters on houses and interiors in his book on the Art of 
Living, and in the introductory remarks he emphasizes the two 
points of familiarity and individuality. Familiarity, I feel, is more 
important than individuality. For no matter how big and preten- 
tious a house a man may have, there is always one particular room 
that he likes and really lives in, and that is invariably a small, un- 
pretentious room, disorderly and familiar and warm. So says Li: 

A man cannot live without a house as his body cannot go 
about without clothing. And as it is true of clothing that it 
should be cool in summer and warm in winter, the same thing 
is true of a house. It is all very imposing to live in a hall twenty 
or thirty feet high with beams several feet across, but such a 
house is suitable for summer and not for winter. The reason 
why one shivers when he enters an official’s mansion is because 
of its space. It is like wearing a fur coat too broad for girdling 
around the waist. On the other hand, a poor man’s house with 
low walls and barely enough space to put one’s knees in, while 
having the virtue of frugality, is suitable for the owner, but not 
suitable for entertaining guests. That is why we feel cramped 
and depressed without any reason when we enter a poor 
scholar’s hut. ... I hope that the dwellings of officials will not 
be too high and big. For a house and the people living in it 
must harmonize as in a picture. Painters of landscape have a 



formula saying, “ten-feet mountains and one-foot trees; one-inch 
horses and bean-sized human beings.” It would be inappro- 
priate to draw trees of two or three feet on a hill of ten feet, 
or to draw a human being the size of a grain of rice or millet 
riding on a horse an inch tall. It would be all right for officials 
to live in halls twenty or thirty feet high, if their bodies were 
nine or ten feet. Otherwise the taller the building, the shorter 
the man appears, and the wider the space, the thinner the man 
seems. Would it not be much better to make his house a little 
smaller and his body a little stouter? . . . 

I have seen high officials or relatives of officials who throw 
away thousands and ten thousands of dollars to build a garden 
and who begin by telling the architect, “For the pavilion, you 
copy the design of So-and-So, and for the covered terrace over- 
looking a pond, you follow the model of So-and-So, down to 
its last detail.” When the mansion is completed, its owner will 
proudly tell people that every detail of the house, from its doors 
and windows to its corridors and towers, has been copied from 
some famous garden without the slightest deviation. Ah, what 
vulgarity! . . . 

Luxury and expensiveness are the things most to be avoided 
in architecture. This is so because not only the common people, 
but also the princes and high officials, should cherish the virtue 
of simplicity. For the important thing in a living house is not 
splendor, but refinement, not elaborate decoradveness, but 
novelty and elegance. People like to show off their rich splen- 
dor not because they love it, but because they are lacking in 
originality, and besides trying to show off, they are at a total 
loss to invent something else. That is why they have to put up 
with mere splendor. Ask two persons to put on two new dresses, 
one simple and elegant and original, and the other rich and 
decorative, but common. Will not the eye of spectators be 
directed to the original dress rather than to the common dress? 
Who doesn’t know the value of silk and brocade and gauze, 
and who has not seen them? But a simple, plain dress with a 
novel design will attract the eyes of spectators because they 
have never seen it before. 

There are points about house designs and interiors which Li 
Liweng goes into fully in his book. The subjects he deals with 
cover houses, windows, screens, lamps, tables, chairs, curios, cabi- 


nets, beds, trunks, and so on. Being an exceptionally original and 
inventive mind, he has something new to say on every topic, and 
some of his inventions have become a part of the Chinese tradition 
today. The most outstanding contributions are his letter paper, 
which were sold in his life time as “ Chiehtseyuan letter paper,” and 
his windows and partition designs. Although his book on the Art 
of Living is not so generally well-known, he is always remembered 
in connection with the Chiehtseyuan Painting Patterns, the most 
generally used beginner’s handbook of Chinese painting, and for 
his Ten Comedies, for he was a dramatist, musician, epicure, dress 
designer, beauty expert and amateur inventor all combined. 

Li had new ideas about beds. He said that whenever he moved 
into a new house, the first thing he looked for and attended to was 
the bed. The Chinese bed has always been a curtained and framed 
affair, resembling a large cabinet or a small room in itself, with 
poles, shelves and drawers built around the pole, for placing books, 
tea-pots, shoes, stockings and odds and ends. Li conceived the idea 
that one should have flower stands as well in the bed. His method 
was to build a thin, tiny piece of wooden shelf, over a foot wide but 
only two or three inches deep, and have it fixed to the em- 
broidered curtain. According to him, the wooden shelf should 
be wrapped up in embroidered silk to resemble a floating cloud, 
with certain irregularities. There he would put whatever flowers 
were in season, or burn “Dragon’s Saliva” incense, or keep “Bud- 
dha’s Fingers” or quince for their fragrance. Thus, he says, “My 
body is no longer a body, but a butterfly flitting about and sleep- 
ing and eating 2 among flowers, and the man is no longer a man 
but a fairy, walking about and sitting and lying in a paradise. 
I have thus once in my sleep felt in a half-awake state the 
fragrance of plum flowers so that my throat and teeth and cheeks 
were permeated with this subde fragrance, as if it came out from 
my chest. And I felt my body so light that I almost thought I was 
not living in a human world. After waking up I told my wife, 

2 A Chinese rich man having a good time with his concubine at night often has 
food and wine served in bed by attending maid servants. 



‘Who are we to enjoy this happiness? Are we not thus “curtail- 
ing” the entire lot of happiness allowed to us?’ 3 My wife replied, 
‘Perhaps that’s the reason why we always remain poor and low! 
The thing is true and not a lie.’ ” 

Lie’s most outstanding contribution, I believe, is in his ideas 
about windows. He invented “fan windows” (for pleasure house- 
boats used on lakes), landscape windows, and plum-flower win- 
dows. The idea of having fan-shaped windows on the sides of a 
houseboat was connected with the Chinese habit of painting and 
writing on fans and collecting such fan paintings in albums. Li’s 
idea was therefore that with the fan window on a boat as the frame, 
both the people inside the boat looking out on the scenery on the 
banks and the people walking on the banks looking at those having 
a wine or tea party in the boat would see the view like a picture on 
a Chinese fan. For the significance of the window lies in the fact that 
it is primarily a place for looking out on a view, as when we say that 
the eye is the “window” of the soul. It should be so designed as to 
look out on the best view and also to enable one to see the view in 
the most favorable manner, in this way introducing the element of 
nature into house interiors by “borrowing” from the outside land- 
scape, as Li put it. Thus: 

When a man is sitting in the boat, the light of the lake and 
the color of the hills, the temples, clouds, haze, bamboos, trees 
on the banks, as well as the woodcutters, shepherd boys, drunken 
old men and promenading ladies, will all be gathered within the 
framework of the fan and form a piece of natural painting. 
Moreover, it is a living and moving picture, changing all the 
time, not only when the boat is moving, giving us a new sight 
with every movement of the oar and a new view with every 
punting of the pole, but even when the boat is lying at anchor, 
when the wind moves and the water ripples, changing its form 
at every moment. Thus we are able to enjoy hundreds and 

3 The Chinese idea is that every man born into this world is predestined with 
a certain quantity of luck or happiness, which may not be changed, and if one 
enjoys too much of something, his luck in other respects is curtailed, or he may 
live a shorter life. 


thousands of beautiful paintings of hills and water in a day by 
means of this fan-shaped window. . . . 

I have also made a window for looking out on hills, called 
landscape window, otherwise known also as “unintentional 
painting.” I will tell how I came to make one. Behind my studio, 
the Studio of Frothy White (signifying “drinking”), there is a 
hill about ten feet high and seven feet wide only, decorated 
with a miniature scenery of red cliffs and blue water, thick 
forests and tall bamboos, singing birds and falling cataracts, 
thatched huts and wooden bridges, complete in all the things 
that we see in a mountain village. For at first a modeller of 
clay made a clay figure of myself with a wonderful expression, 
and furthermore, because my name Liweng meant “an old 
man with a bamboo hat,” also made me into a fisherman, hold- 
ing a fishing pole and sitting on top of a rock. Then we thought 
since there was a rock, there must be also water, and since there 
was water, there must be also a hill, and since there were both 
hill and water, there must be a mountain retreat for the old 
man with a bamboo hat to retire and fish in his old age. That 
was how we gradually built up the entire scenery. It is clear 
therefore that the artificial hill grew out of a clay statue with- 
out any idea of making it serve the purpose of a window view. 
Later I saw that although the things were in miniature, their 
suggested universe was great, and it seemed to recall the Budd- 
hist idea that a mustard seed and the Himalayas are equal in 
size, and therefore I sat there the whole day looking at it, and 
could not bear to close the window. And one day inspired I 
said to myself, “This hill can be made into a painting, and this 
p ain ting can be made into a window. All it will cost me will be 
just one day’s drink money to provide the ‘mounting’ for this 
painting.” I therefore asked a boy servant to cut out several 
pieces of paper, and paste them above and below the window 
and at the sides, to serve as the mounting for a real picture. 
Thus the mounting was complete, and only the space usually 
occupied by the painting itself was left vacant, with the hill 
behind my house to take its place. Thus when one sits and looks 
at it, the window is no more a window but a piece of painting, 
and the hill is no longer the hill behind my house, but a hill in 
the painting. I could not help laughing out loud, and my wife 
and children, hearing my laughter, came to see it and joined 


2 73 

in laughing at what I had been laughing at. This is the origin 

of the “unintentional painting,” and the “landscape window.” 

In the matter of tables and chairs and cabinets, Li also had a 
number of novel ideas. I can only mention here his invention of a 
heated armchair for use in winter. It is quite a practicable and 
useful invention wherever the rooms are not properly heated. It 
is a long wooden settee on a raised wooden platform built into 
the settee itself. The platform is two or three feet deep, with up- 
right wooden panels at the sides about the height of a low desk. 
The front of the settee is also provided with two wooden door 
panels , 4 and as one goes up the platform, he closes the door, which 
together with the upright panels on the side forms a perfect sup- 
port for a removable desk top. The sitter is thus encased behind 
the desk. The platform itself is provided with a, drawer containing 
hot ashes and well burned and smokeless charcoal. The settee is so 
made that one can sit and work there, and also lie down when he 
is tired. Li claimed that the cost of thus providing a perfectly 
warm and comfortable place to work in was no more than four 
pieces of charcoal a day, two being added in the morning and 
two in the afternoon. He claimed further that, when traveling, 
two strong bamboo poles could be tied to its sides and the settee 
could be used like a regular sedan chair, with the certainty of 
avoiding cold feet, and the added advantage of keeping warm what- 
ever food and drink was taken on the journey. For the summer, he 
also thought of a bench resembling a bathtub, with a porcelain tub 
specially ordered to fit into it. The tub could then be filled with 
cold water, reaching to the back of the seat and cooling it. 

The Western world has invented rotating, collapsible, adjustable, 
reversible and convertible beds, sofas and barber chairs, but some- 
how it has not struck upon the idea of detachable and divisible 
tables and curio stands. This is a thing that has had a long de- 
velopment in China, showing considerable ingenuity. The prin- 
ciple of divisible tables, known as “yenchi,” originated with a game 

4 It would be more practical to have the door panel at one side, instead of in front. 


similar to building blocks for Western children, according to which 
a collection of blocks of wood forming a perfect square can be made 
into the most diverse symbolic figures of animals, human figures, 
utensils and furniture on a flat surface. A “yenchi” table of six 
pieces could be arranged to form one or several tables of different 
size, square or rectangular or T-shaped, or with the tops at various 
angles, making a total of forty ways of arrangement. 5 

Another type, called tiehchi, or “butterfly tables,” differ from 
the yenchi in having triangular pieces and diagonal lines, and 
therefore the resulting shapes of pieces put together present a 
greater diversity of outline. Whereas the first type of yenchi 
tables were largely designed for dinner or card-tables of different 
size, sometimes with a vacant space in the center for candle stands, 
this second type is designed for dinner tables and card tables and 
flower and curio stands as well, because flower and curio stands 
require a greater diversity of arrangement. This butterfly table 
consists of thirteen pieces, and together they form square tables, 
rectangular tables, diamond shaped tables, with or without vary- 
ing kinds of holes, the possibility of novel arrangements being lim- 
ited only by the ingenuity of the housewife. 6 

There is a great desire among housewives both of the East and 
West to vary their interior arrangements, and divisible flower 
stands or tea tables seem to provide the possibility for infinite 
variety. The resulting shapes of such tables look strangely modern- 
istic, for modernistic furniture emphasizes the idea of simplicity 
of line, which is also characteristic of Chinese furniture. The art 

5 The first divisible tables were invented either by the great Yuan painter, Ni 
Yiinlin, who was also a great collector of curios and old furniture, or still further 
back by certain Huang Posse of the southern Sung Dynasty. A later man, Hsiian 
Kuch’ing, added one more piece, with the possibility of seventy-six different arrange- 
ments, for which pictures of the different arrangements exist. The design is simple 
enough, consisting of seven pieces all one unit wide, of which three pieces are two 
units long, two pieces are three units long and two pieces are four units long. 
The actual dimension given for the unit is one foot and three quarters, so that the 
two longest tables of four units are seven feet long. 

6 This was invented by a certain Ko Shan, at the end of the Ming Dynasty, and 
the book giving sixty-two diagrams of its arrangements has been reprinted in various 
old Chinese libraries on the art of living. 


2 75 

seems to lie in combining variety in line with simplicity. I have 
seen, for instance, an old Chinese redwood flower stand so made 
that its legs are not perfectly straight, but there is a slight turn in 
their middle. As for varying arrangements, the simplest way would 
be not to order a round or square table, but to have the round 
table consist of two semi-circular halves, and the square table 
consist of two triangular tops, forming a square with the com- 
mon base of the triangles as its diagonal line. When not wanted 
for playing cards, such round or square tables can be broken up 
in two and placed against the wall with the base of the triangle 
or of the semi-circle against it, and used for flower pots or books. 
With the “butterfly tables,” one can then have, instead of a tri- 
angular table against the wall, one similar to it but with a twin 
apex to the triangle, like two peaks of a hill. Card tables can be 
made larger or smaller in size according to the company present. 
Tea tables can be made to look like two squares overlapping one 
another at one of their corners, or they may resemble a “T” shape 
or a “U” or an “S” shape. It might be quite interesting to have 
a small party sitting at dinner around a “U” or “S” shaped table 
in a small apartment. 

There exists today a perfect copy of a detachable bookcase made 
of hardwood, found in Ch’angshu, Kiangsu. Sectional bookcases 
are common in the West, but the new feature about this detach- 
able bookcase is that its sections are so designed that, when taken 
apart, they can be put one inside another, the whole occupying 
no more space than a large suitcase. As it stands, it looks like a 
strangely modernistic bookcase. But it is possible to vary it and 
modify it so that one can break it up and have two or three small 
bookcases, perhaps twelve, eighteen, or twenty-four inches long, to 
be put at the head of sofas and beds, instead of one big bookcase, 
standing forever at one point in the room. 

The ideal of Chinese interiors seems to consist of the two ideas, 
simplicity and space. A well arranged room always has few pieces 
of furniture, and these are generally of mahogany with extremely 
polished surface and simple lines, usually curved around the ends. 


Mahogany is polished by hand, and the difference in polish, en- 
tailing enormous labor, accounts for a wide difference in price. A 
long board table without drawers generally stands against one 
wall, supporting one big “liver” vase. At another corner perhaps 
may be seen one, two or three mahogany flower or curio stands, 
of different height, and perhaps a few stools with gnarled roots as 
supports. A bookcase or curio cabinet stands on one side, with 
sections of various heights and levels, giving a strangely modern- 
istic effect. And on the wall are just one or two scrolls, either of 
calligraphy, showing the sheer joy of brush movement, or of 
painting, with more empty space than brush strokes in it. And 
like the painting itself, the room should be bungling, or “empty 
and alive.” The most distinctive feature of Chinese home design 
is the stone-paved courtyard, similar in effect to a Spanish cloister, 
and symbolizing peace, quiet and repose. 

Chapter Ten 


I. Paradise Lost? 

IT is a curious thing that among the myriad creations on this 
planet, while the entire plant life is deprived from taking any 
attitude toward Nature and practically all animals can also have 
no “attitude” to speak of, there should be a creature called man 
who is both self-conscious and conscious of his surroundings and 
who can therefore take an attitude toward it. Man’s intelligence 
begins to question the universe, to explore its secrets and to find 
out its meaning. There are both a scientific and a moral attitude 
toward the universe. The scientific man is interested in finding out 
the chemical composition of the inside and crust of the earth upon 
which he lives, the thickness of the atmosphere surrounding it, 
the quantity and nature of cosmic rays dashing about on the top 
layers of the atmosphere, the formation of its hills and rocks, and 
the law governing life in general. This scientific interest has a re- 
lationship to the moral attitude, but in itself it is a pure desire to 
know and to explore. The moral attitude, on the other hand, 
varies a great deal, being sometimes one of harmony with nature, 
sometimes one of conquest and subjugation, or one of control and 
utilization, and sometimes one of supercilious contempt. This last 
attitude of supercilious contempt toward our own planet is a very 
curious product of civilization and of certain religions in particu- 
lar. It springs from the fiction of the “Lost Paradise,” which, 
strange to say, is pretty generally accepted as being true today, as 
a result of a primitive religious tradition. 

It is amazing that no one ever questions the truth of the story 
of a lost Paradise. How beautiful, after all, was the Garden of 
Eden, and how ugly, after all, is the present physical universe? 
Have flowers ceased to bloom since Eve and Adam sinned? 
Has God cursed the apple tree and forbidden it to bear fruit be- 
cause one man sinned, or has He decided that its blossoms should 

2 77 


be made of duller or paler colors? Have orioles and nightingales 
and skylarks ceased to sing? Is there no snow upon the mountain 
tops and are there no reflections in the lakes? Are there no rosy 
sunsets today and no rainbows and no haze nestling over villages, 
and are there no falling cataracts and gurgling streams and shady 
trees? Who therefore invented the myth that the “Paradise” was 
“lost” and that today we are living in an ugly universe? We are 
indeed ungrateful spoiled children of God. 

A parable has to be written of this spoiled child. Once upon a 
time there was a man whose name we will not yet mention. He 
came to God and complained that this planet was not good enough 
for him, and said he wanted a Heaven of Pearly Gates. And God 
first pointed out to the moon in the sky and asked him if it was 
not a good toy, and he shook his head. He said he didn’t want to 
look at it. Then God pointed out to the blue hills in the distance 
and asked him if the lines were not beautiful, and he said they 
were common and ordinary. Next God showed him the petals of 
the orchid and the pansy, and asked him to put out his fingers 
and touch gently their velvety lining and asked if the color scheme 
was not exquisite, and the man said, “No.” In His infinite patience, 
God took him to an aquarium, and showed him the gorgeous 
colors and shapes of Hawaiian fishes, and the man said he was not 
interested. God then took him under a shady tree and commanded 
a cool breeze to blow and asked him if he couldn’t enjoy that, and 
the man replied again that he was not impressed. Next God took 
him to a mountain lake and showed him the light of the water, 
the sound of winds whistling through a pine forest, the serenity 
of the rocks and the beautiful reflections in the lake, and the man 
said that still he could not get excited over it. Thinking that this 
creature of His was not mild-tempered and wanted more exciting 
views, God took him then to the top of the Rocky Mountains, the 
Grand Canyon, and caves with stalactites and stalagmites, and 
geysers, and sand dunes, and the fairyfinger-shaped cactus plants 
on a desert, and the snow on the Himalayas, and the cliffs of the 
Yangtse Gorges, and the granite peaks of the Yellow Mountains, 


2 79 

and the sweeping cataract of Niagara Falls, and asked him if He 
had not done everything possible to make this planet beautiful to 
delight his eyes and his ears and his stomach, and the man still 
clamored for a Heaven with Pearly Gates. “This planet,” the man 
said, “is not good enough for me.” “You presumptuous, ungrate- 
ful rat!” said God. “So this planet is not good enough for you. I 
will therefore send you to Hell where you shall not see the sailing 
clouds and the flowering trees, nor hear the gurgling brooks and 
live there forever till the end of your days.” And God sent him to 
live in a city apartment. His name was Christian. 

It is clear that this man is pretty difficult to satisfy. There is a 
question as to whether God can create a heaven to satisfy him. I 
am sure that with his millionaire complex, he will be pretty sick 
of the Pearly Gates during his second week in Heaven, and God 
will be at His wits’ end to invent something else to please this 
spoiled child. Now it must be pretty generally accepted that mod- 
ern astronomy, by exploring the entire visible universe, is forcing 
us to accept this earth itself as a very heaven, and the Heaven that 
we dream of must occupy some space, and occupying some space, 
it must be somewhere among the stars in the firmament, unless 
it is in the inter-stellar void. And since this Heaven is to be 
found in some star, with or without moons, my imagination 
rather fails to conceive of a better planet than our own. Of course 
there may be a dozen moons instead of one, colored pink, purple, 
Prussian blue, cabbage green, orange, lavender, aquamarine, and 
turquoise, and in addition there may be better and more fre- 
quent rainbows. But I suspect that a man who is not satisfied 
with one moon will also get tired of a dozen moons, and one who 
is not satisfied with an occasional snow scene or rainbow, will be 
equally tired of better and more frequent rainbows. There may be 
six seasons in a year instead of four, and there will be the same 
beautiful alternation of spring and summer and day and night, 
but I don’t see how that will make a difference. If one doesn’t 
enjoy spring and summer on earth, how can he enjoy spring and 
summer in Heaven? I must seem to be talking either like a great 


fool or an extremely wise man now, but certainly I don’t share the 
Buddhist or Christian desire to escape from the senses and physical 
matter by assuming a heaven occupying no space and constructed 
out of sheer spirit. For myself, I would as soon live on this planet 
as on any other. Certainly no one can say that life on this planet is 
stale and monotonous. If a man cannot be satisfied with the variety 
of weather and the changing colors of the sky, the exquisite flavors 
of fruits appearing by rotation in the different seasons, and flowers 
blooming by rotation in the different months, that man had better 
commit suicide and not try to go on a futile chase after an impos- 
sible Heaven that may satisfy God himself and never satisfy man. 

As the facts of the case really stand today, there is a perfect, and 
almost a mystic, coordination between the sights, sounds, smells 
and tastes of nature and our organs of seeing, hearing, smelling 
and eating. This coordination between the sights and sounds and 
smells of the universe and our own perceptive organs is so perfect 
that it forms a perfect argument for teleology, so much ridiculed 
by Voltaire. But we need not all be teleologists. God might have 
invited us to this feast, or he might not. The Chinese attitude is 
that we will join in the feast whether we are invited or not. It 
simply doesn’t make sense not to taste the feast when the food 
looks so tempting and we have such an appetite. Let the philoso- 
phers carry on their metaphysical researches and try to find out 
whether we are among the invited guests, but the sensible man 
will eat up the food before it gets cold. Hunger always goes with 
good common sense. 

Our planet is a very good planet. In the first place, there is the 
alternation of night and day, and morning and sunset, and a cool 
evening following upon a hot day, and a silent and clear dawn 
presaging a busy morning, and there is nothing better than that. 
In the second place, there is the alternation of summer and winter, 
perfect in themselves, but made still more perfect by being gradu- 
ally ushered in by spring and autumn, and there is nothing better 
than that. In the third place, there are the silent and dignified 
trees, giving us shade in summer and not shutting out the warm 



sunshine in winter, and there is nothing better than that. In the 
fourth place, there are flowers blooming and fruits ripening by 
rotation in the different months, and there is nothing better than 
that. In the fifth place, there are cloudy and misty days alternating 
with clear and sunny days, and there is nothing better than that. 
In the sixth place, there are spring showers and summer thunder- 
storms and the dry crisp wind of autumn and the snow of winter, 
and there is nothing better than that. In the seventh place, there 
are peacocks and parrots and skylarks and canaries singing in- 
imitable songs, and there is nothing better than that. In the eighth 
place, there is the zoo, with monkeys, tigers, bears, camels, ele- 
phants, rhinoceros, crocodiles, sea lions, cows, horses, dogs, cats, 
foxes, squirrels, woodchucks and more variety and ingenuity than 
we ever thought of, and there is nothing better than that. In the 
ninth place, there are rainbow fish, sword fish, electric eels, whales, 
minnows, clams, abalones, lobsters, shrimps, turtles and more vari- 
ety and ingenuity than we ever thought of, and there is nothing 
better than that. In the tenth place, there are magnificent redwood 
trees, fire-spouting volcanoes, magnificent caves, majestic peaks, 
undulating hills, placid lakes, winding rivers and shady banks, 
and there is nothing better than that. The menu is practically end- 
less to suit individual tastes, and the only sensible thing to do is to 
go and partake of the feast and not complain about the monotony 
of life. 

II. On Bigness 

Nature is itself always a sanatorium. If it can cure nothing else, 
it can cure man of megalomania. Man has to be “put in his place,” 
and he is always put in his place against nature’s background. 
That is why Chinese paintings always paint human figures so 
small in a landscape. In a Chinese landscape called “Looking at 
a Mountain After Snow,” it is very difficult to find the human figure 
supposed to be looking at the mountain after snow. After a care- 
ful search, he will be discovered perching beneath a pine tree — 
his squatting body about an inch high in a painting fifteen high, 


and done in no more than a few rapid strokes. There is another 
Sung painting of four scholarly figures .wandering in an autumn 
forest and raising their heads to look at the intertwining branches 
of majestic trees above them. It does one good to feel terribly 
small at times. Once I was passing a summer in Ruling, and lying 
there on top of the mountain, I began to see two little creatures, 
the size of ants, a hundred miles off in Nanking, hating and 
intriguing against each other for a chance to serve China, and it 
made the whole thing seem a little comical. That is why a moun- 
tain trip is supposed by the Chinese to have a cathartic effect, cleans- 
ing one’s breast of a lot of foolish ambitions and unnecessary 

Man is liable to forget how small and often how futile he is. 
A man seeing a hundred-story building often gets conceited, and 
the best way to cure that insufferable conceit is to transport that 
skyscraper in one’s imagination to a little contemptible hill and 
learn a truer sense of what may and what may not be called 
“enormous.” What we like about the sea is its infiniteness, and 
what we like about the mountain is its enormity. There are peaks 
in Huangshan or the Yellow Mountains which are formed by 
single pieces of granite a thousand feet high from their visible 
base on the ground to their tops, and half a mile long. These are 
what inspire the Chinese artists, and their silence, their rugged 
enormity and their apparent eternity account partly for the Chi- 
nese love of rocks in pictures. It is hard to believe that there are 
such enormous rocks until one visits Huangshan, and there was 
a Huangshan School of painters in the seventeenth century, de- 
riving their inspiration from these silent peaks of granite. 

On the other hand, by association with nature’s enormities, a 
man’s heart may truly grow big also. There is a way of looking 
upon a landscape as a moving picture and being satisfied with 
nothing less big as a moving picture, a way of looking upon tropic 
clouds over the horizon as the backdrop of a stage and being satis- 
fied with nothing less big as a backdrop, a way of looking upon the 
mountain forests as a private garden and being satisfied with noth- 



ing less as a private garden, a way of listening to the roaring waves 
as a concert and being satisfied with nothing less as a concert, and 
a way of looking upon the mountain breeze as an air-cooling sys- 
tem and being satisfied with nothing less as an air-cooling system. 
So do we become big, even as the earth and firmaments are big. 
Like the “Big Man” described by Yuan Tsi (A. D. 210-263), one 
China’s first romanticists, we “live in heaven and earth as our 

The best “spectacle” I ever saw took place one evening on 
the Indian Ocean. It was truly immense. The stage was a hundred 
miles wide and three miles high, and on it nature enacted a drama 
lasting half an hour, now with giant dragons, dinosaurs and lions 
moving across the sky — how the lions’ heads swelled and their 
manes spread and how the dragons’ backs bent and wriggled and 
curled! — now showing armies of white-clad and gray-uniformed 
armies and officers with golden epaulets, marching and counter- 
marching and united in combat and retreating again. As the battle 
and the chase were going on, the stage-lights changed, and the 
soldiers in white uniform burst out in orange and the soldiers in 
gray uniforms seemed to don purple, while the backdrop was a 
flaming iridescent gold. Then as Nature’s stage technicians gradu- 
ally dimmed the lights, the purple overcame and swallowed up 
the orange, and changed into deeper and deeper mauve and gray, 
presenting for the last five minutes a spectacle of unspeakable 
tragedy and black disaster before the lights went out. And I did 
not pay a single cent to watch the grandest show of my life. 

There is, too, the silence of the mountains, and that silence is 
therapeutic — the silent peaks, the silent rocks, the silent trees, all 
silent and all majestic. Every good mountain with an enclosing ges- 
ture is a sanatorium. One feels good nestling like a baby on its breast. 
A disbeliever in Christian Science, I do believe in the spiritual, heal- 
ing properties of grand, old trees and mountain resorts, not for 
curing a fractured shoulder-bone or an infected skin, but for curing 
the ambitions of the flesh and diseases of the soul — kleptomania, 
megalomania, egocentricity, spiritual halitosis, bonditis, couponitis, 


managitis (the desire to manage others), war-neurosis, verse-phobia, 
spitefulness, hatred, social exhibitionism, general muddle-headedness 
and all forms of moral distemper. 

III. Two Chinese Ladies 

The enjoyment of Nature is an art, depending so much on one’s 
mood and personality, and like all art, it is difficult to explain its 
technique. Everything must be spontaneous and rise spontaneously 
from an artistic temperament. It is therefore difficult to lay down 
rules for the enjoyment of this or that tree, this or that rock and 
this or that landscape in a particular moment, for no landscapes are 
exacdy alike. He who understands will know how to enjoy Nature 
without being told. Havelock Ellis and Van der Velde are wise 
when they say that what is allowable and what is not allowable, or 
what is good and what is bad taste in the art of love between hus- 
band and wife in the intimacy of their bedroom, is not something 
that can be prescribed by rules. The same thing is true of the art of 
enjoying Nature. The best approach is probably by studying the lives 
of such people who have the artistic temperament in them. The feel- 
ing for Nature, one’s dreams of a beautiful landscape seen a year 
ago, and one’s sudden desire to visit a certain place — these things 
come in at the most unexpected moments. One who has the artistic 
temperament shows it wherever he goes, and writers who truly en- 
joy nature will go off in descriptions of a beautiful snow scene or a 
spring evening, forgetting entirely about the story or the plot. Auto- 
biographies of journalists and statesmen are usually full of reminis- 
cences of past events, while the autobiographies of literary men 
should mainly concern themselves with reminiscences of a happy 
night, or a visit with some of their friends to some valley. In this 
sense I find the autobiographies of Rudyard Kipling and G. K. 
Chesterton disappointing. Why are the important anecdotes of their 
lives regarded as so unimportant, and why are the unimportant anec- 
dotes regarded as so important? Men, men, men, everywhere, and 
no mention of flowers and birds and hills and streams! 



The reminiscences of Chinese literary men, and also their letters, 
differ in this respect. The important thing is to tell a friend in one’s 
letter about a night on the lake, or to record in one’s autobiography 
a perfecdy happy day and how it was passed. In particular, Chinese 
writers, at least a number of them, have gone to the length of writ- 
ing reminiscences about their married lives. Of these, Mao Pich- 
iang’s Reminiscences of My Concubine / Shen Sanpo’s Six Chapters 
of a Floating Life, and Chiang T’an’s Reminiscences Under the 
Lamp-Light are the best examples. The first two were written by 
the husbands after their wives’ death, while the last was written in 
the author’s old age during his wife’s lifetime . 2 We will begin with 
certain select passages from the Reminiscences Under the Lamp- 
Light with the author’s wife Ch’iufu as the heroine, and follow it 
with selections from Six Chapters of a Floating Life, with Yiin as 
the heroine. Both these women had the right temperament, although 
they were not particularly educated or good poets. It doesn’t matter. 
No one should aim at writing immortal poetry; one should learn 
the writing of poems merely as a way to record a meaningful 
moment, a personal mood, or to help the enjoyment of Nature. 

A. Ch'iufu 

Ch’iufu often said to me, “A man’s life lasts only a hundred 
years, and of this hundred sleep and dream occupy one half, 
days of illness and sorrow occupy one half, and the days of 
swaddling clothes and senile age again occupy one half . 3 What 
we have got left is only a tenth or fifth part. Besides, we who 
are made of the stuff of willows can hardly expect to live a 
hundred years.” 

One day when the autumn moon was at its best, Ch’iufu 
asked a young maid to carry a ch’in and accompany her to a 
boating trip among the lotus flowers of the West Lake. I was 
then returning from the West River, and when I arrived and 
found that Ch’iufu had gone boating, I bought some melons 

1 Quoted in the section on “Smoke and Incense.” 

2 There are a number of others; for instance, Li Liweng has also two sketches 
about his two concubines, who were good singers, personally trained by him. 

3 This is merely Chinese mathematics. 



and went after her. We met at the Second Bridge of the Su 
Tungp’o Embankment, when Ch’iufu was playing the sad ditty 
of “Autumn in Han Palace.” Stopping to listen with my gown 
gathered in my hands, I listened to her music. At this moment, 
the hills all around were enveloped in the evening haze, and the 
reflections of the stars and the moon were seen in the water. 
Different musical sounds came to my ear so that I could not 
distinguish whether it was the sounds of the wind in the air, or 
the sounds of jingling jade. Before the song was completed, the 
bow of our boat had already touched the southern bank of the 
Garden of Swirling Waters. We then knocked at the gate of the 
White Cloud Convent, for we knew the nuns there. After sit- 
ting down for a while, the nuns served us with freshly picked 
lotus seeds prepared in soup. Their color and their fragrance 
were enough to cool one’s intestines, a world different from the 
taste of meats and oily foods. Coming back, we landed at Tuan’s 
Bridge, where we spread a bamboo matting on the ground and 
sat talking for a long time. The distant rumble of the city rather 
annoyed our ears like the humming of flies. . . . Then the stars 
in the sky became fewer and fewer and the lake was blanketed 
with a stretch of white. We heard the drum on top of the city 
wall and realized that it was already the fourth watch [about 
3 A. M.] and carried the ch’in and paddled the boat home. 

The banana trees that Ch’iufu planted had already grown 
big leaves which cast their green shade across the screen. To 
have heard raindrops beating upon the leaves in autumn when 
lying inclined on a pillow was enough to break one’s heart. So 
one day I playfully wrote three lines on one of the leaves: 

What busybody planted this sapling? 

Morning tapping, 

Evening rapping! 

Next day, I saw another three lines following them, which read: 

It’s you who’re lonesome, fretting! 

Banana getting, 

Banana regretting! 

The characters were delicately formed, and they came from 
Ch’iufu’s playful pen. But I have learnt something from what 
she wrote. 

One night we heard the noise of wind and rain, and the pil- 



lows and matting revealed the cooler spirit of autumn. Ch’iufu 
was just undressing for the night, and I was sitting by her side 
and had just gone through an album of hundred flowers with 
inscriptions that I was making. I heard the noise of several 
yellow leaves falling upon the floor from the window, and 
Ch’iufu sang the lines: 

Yesterday was better than today; 

And this year I’m older than the last. 

I consoled her, saying, “One never lives a full hundred years. 
How can we have time to wipe the tears for others [the falling 
leaves].” And with a sigh I laid aside the painting brush. When 
the night was getting late, and Ch’iufu wanted to have some- 
thing to drink, I found that the fire in the earthen stove had 
already died out, and the maid servants were all in dreamland, 
drooping their heads. I then took the oil lamp on the table and 
placed it under the little tea stove, and warmed up a cup of lotus 
seeds for her. Ch’iufu has been suffering from an affection in 
the lungs for ten years, and always coughs in late autumn and 
sleeps well only when upholstered on a high pillow. This year, 
she is feeling stronger, and we often sit face to face with each 
other deep into the night. Perhaps it is due to proper care and 

I made a dress with a plum-flower design for Ch’iufu, with 
fragrant snow all over her body, and at a distance she looked 
like a Plum Fairy standing alone in a world of mortal beings. 

In late spring, when her green sleeves were resting on the bal- 
cony, butterflies would flit about her temples, not knowing that 
the season of the Eastern Wind was already gone. 

Last year, the swallows came back later than usual, and when 
they came, half of the peach blossoms outside the screen had al- 
ready bloomed. One day, the clay from their nest fell down and 
a young swallow fell to the ground. Afraid that a wild cat might 
get it, Ch’iufu immediately took it up, and made a bamboo sup- 
port for its nest. This year the same swallows have returned 
and are chirping around the house. Do they perhaps remember 
the one who protected the young one last year? 

Ch’iufu loves to play chess but is not very good at it. Every 
night, she would force me to play “the conversation of fingers” 
with her, sometimes till daybreak. I playfully quoted the line of 



Chu Chuchia, “At tossing coins and matching grass-blades you 
have both lost. I ask you with what are you going to pay me 
tonight?” “Are you so sure I cannot win?” she said, evading 
the question. “I will bet you this jade tiger.” We then played 
and when twenty or thirty stones had been laid, and she was 
getting into a worse situation, she let the cat upon the chess- 
board to upset the game. “Are you regarding yourself as Yang 
Kueifei [who played the same trick upon Emperor T’ang Ming- 
huang] ?” I asked. She kept quiet, but the light of silver candles 
shone upon her peach-colored cheeks. After that, we did not 
play any more. 

There are several cassia trees at the Hupao Spring, stretching 
low over some rocks. During blossom, its yellow flowers cover 
up the stone steps, its perfume making one feel like visiting the 
Kingdom of Divine Fragrance. I have a weakness for flowers 
and often boiled tea 4 under them. Ch’iufu plucked the flowers 
and decorated her hair with them, but sometimes her hair 
would be caught or upset by the overhanging branches. I ar- 
ranged it and smoothed it with the spring water. On our depart- 
ure, we plucked a few twigs and brought them home, putting 
them on the back of our cart as we went through the city streets, 
that people might know the latest news of the new autumn. 

B. Yun 

In the Six Chapters of a Floating Life we have the reminiscences 
of an obscure Chinese painter about his married life with Yun. 
They were both simple artistic souls, trying to snatch every moment 
of happiness that came their way, and the story was told in a simple 
unaffected manner. Somehow Yun has seemed to me the most beau- 
tiful woman in Chinese literature. Theirs was a sad life, and yet it 
was one of the gayest, with a gaiety that came from the soul. It is 
interesting to see how the enjoyment of nature came in as a vital 
part of their spiritual experience. Below are three passages describing 
their enjoyment of the seventh of the seventh moon and the fifteenth 
of the seventh moon, both festivals, and of how they passed a sum- 
mer inside the city of Soochow: 

4 Hupao Spring water is famous for making tea. 



On the seventh night of the seventh moon of that year [1780] 
Yiin prepared incense, candles and some melons and fruits, so 
that we might together worship the Grandson of Heaven 5 in 
the Hall called “After My Heart.” I had carved two seals with 
the inscription, “That we might remain husband and wife from 
incarnation to incarnation.” I kept the seal with positive char- 
acters, while she kept the one with negative characters, to be 
used in our correspondence. That night, the moon was shining 
beautifully and when I looked down at the creek, the ripples 
shone like golden chains. We were wearing light silk dresses 
and sitting together with a small fan in our hands, before a 
window overlooking the creek. Looking up at the sky, we saw 
the clouds sailing through the heavens, changing at every mo- 
ment into a myriad forms, and Yiin said: “This moon is com- 
mon to the whole universe. I wonder if there is another pair of 
lovers quite as passionate as ourselves looking at the same moon 
tonight?” And I said: “Oh, there are plenty of people who will 
be sitting in the cool evening and looking at the moon, and, 
perhaps also many women criticising or enjoying the clouds in 
their chambers; but when a husband and wife are looking at 
the moon together, I hardly think that the clouds will form the 
subject of their conversation.” By and by, the candle-lights went 
out, the moon sank in the sky, and we removed the fruits and 
went to bed. 

The fifteenth of the seventh moon was All Souls’ Day. Yiin 
prepared a little dinner, so that we could drink together with 
the moon as our company, but when night came, the sky was 
suddenly overcast with dark clouds. Yiin knitted her brow and 
said: “If it be the wish of God that we two should live together 
until there are silver threads in our hair, then the moon must 
come out again tonight.” On my part I felt disheartened also. 
As we looked across the creek, we saw will-o’-the-wisps flitting 
in crowds hither and thither like ten thousand candle-lights, 
threading their way through the willows and smartweeds. And 
then we began to compose a poem together, each saying two 
lines at a time, the first completing the couplet which the other 
had begun, and the second beginning another couplet for the 
other to finish, and after a few rhymes, the longer we kept on, 

5 The seventh day of the seventh moon is the only day in the year when the pair 
of heavenly lovers, the Cowherd (“Grandson of Heaven”) and the Spinster are al- 
lowed to meet each other across the Milky Way. 


the more nonsensical it became, until it was a jumble of slap- 
dash doggerel. By this time, Yiin was buried amidst tears and 
laughter and choking on my breast, while I felt the fragrance 
of the jasmine in her hair assail my nostrils. I patted her on 
the shoulder and said jokingly, “I thought that the jasmine 
was used for decoration in women’s hair because it was round 
like a pearl; I did not know that it is because its fragrance is 
so much finer when it is mixed with the smell of women’s hair 
and powder. When it smells like that, even the citron cannot 
remotely compare with it.” Then Yiin stopped laughing and 
said: “The citron is the gentleman among the different frag- 
rant plants because its fragrance is so slight that you can hardly 
detect it; on the other hand, the jasmine is a common fellow 
because it borrows its fragrance partly from others. Therefore, 
the fragrance of the jasmine is like that of a smiling syco- 
phant.” “Why, then,” I said, “do you keep away from the 
gendeman and associate with the common fellow?” And Yiin 
replied, “I am amused by the gentleman that loves the com- 
mon fellow.” While we were thus bandying words about, it 
was already midnight, and we saw the wind had blown away 
the clouds in the sky and there appeared the full moon, round 
like a chariot wheel, and we were greatly delighted. And so 
we began to drink by the side of the window, but before we 
had tasted three cups, we heard suddenly the noise of a splash 
under the bridge, as if some one had fallen into the water. 
We looked out through the window and saw there was not a 
thing, the water was a smooth as a mirror, except that we 
heard the noise of a duck scampering in the marshes. I knew 
that there was a ghost of some one drowned by the side of the 
Ts’anglang Pavilion, but knowing that Yiin was very timid, 
dared not mention it to her. And Yiin sighed and said: “Alas! 
whence cometh this noise?” and we shuddered all over. 
Quickly we shut the window and carried the wine pot back 
into the room. A lamp light was then burning as small as a 
pea, and the curtains moved in the dark, and we were shaking 
all over. We then put out the light and went inside the bed 
curtain, and Yiin already had run up a high fever. Soon I had 
a high temperature myself, and our illness dragged on for about 
twenty days. True it is that when the cup of happiness over- 
flows, disaster follows, as the saying goes, and this was also an 
omen that we should not be able to live together until old age. 



The book is strewn literally with passages of such charm and 
beauty, showing an overflowing love of nature, but the following 
description of how they spent a summer must suffice: 

After we had moved to Ts’angmi Alley, I called our bed- 
room the “Tower of Guests’ Fragrance,” with a reference to 
Yiin’s name , 6 and to the story of Liang Hung and Meng Kuang 
who as husband and wife were always courteous to each other 
“like guests.” We rather disliked the house because the walls 
were too high and the courtyard was too small. At the back, 
there was another house, leading to the library. Looking out 
of the window at the back, one could see the old garden of 
Mr. Lu, then in a dilapidated condition. Yiin’s thoughts still 
hovered about the beautiful scenery of the Ts’anglang Pavilion. 

At this time there was an old peasant woman living on the 
east of Mother Gold’s Bridge and the north of Kenghsiang. 
Her little cottage was surrounded on all sides by vegetable 
fields and had a wicker gate. Outside the gate, there was a 
pond about thirty yards across, surrounded by a wilderness of 
trees on all sides. ... A few paces to the west of the cottage, 
there was a mound filled with broken bricks, from the top of 
which one could command a view of the surrounding country, 
which was an open ground with a stretch of wild vegetation. 
Once the old woman happened to mention the place, and 
Yiin kept on thinking about it. . . . So the next day I went 
there and found that the cottage consisted only of two rooms, 
which could be partitioned into four. With paper windows 
and bamboo beds, the house would make quite a delightfully 
cool place to stay in. . . . 

Our only neighbours were an old couple who raised vege- 
tables for the market. They knew that we were going to stay 
there for the summer, and came and called on us, bringing 
us some fish from the pond and vegetables from their own 
fields. We offered to pay for them, but as they wouldn’t take 
any money, Yiin made a pair of shoes for them, which they 
were finally persuaded to accept. This was in July when the 
trees cast a green shade over the place. The summer breeze 
blew over the water of the pond, and cicades filled the air with 
their singing the whole day. Our old neighbour also made a 
fishing line for us, and we used to angle together under the 

6 “Yiin” in Chinese means a certain fragrant weed. 


shade. Late in the afternoons, we would go up on the mound 
to look at the evening glow and compose lines of poetry, when 
we felt so inclined. Two of the lines were: 

Beast-clouds swallow the sinking sun. 

And the bow-moon shoots the falling stars. 

After a while, the moon cut her image in the water, insects 
began to cry all around, and we placed a bamboo bed near 
the hedgerow to sit or lie upon. The old woman then would 
inform us that wine had been warmed up and dinner prepared, 
and we would sit down to have a little drink under the moon. 
After we had a bath, we would put on our slippers and carry a 
fan, and lie or sit there, listening to old tales of retribution told 
by our neighbour. When we came in to sleep about midnight, 
we felt our whole bodies nice and cool, almost forgetting that 
we were living in a city. 

There along the hedgerow, we asked the gardener to plant 
chrysanthemums. The flowers bloomed in the ninth moon, 
and we continued to stay there for another ten days. My 
mother was also quite delighted and came to see us there. So 
we ate crabs in the midst of chrysanthemums and whiled away 
the whole day. Yiin was quite enchanted with all this and said: 
“Some day we must build a cottage here. We’ll buy ten mow 
of ground, and around it we’ll plant vegetables and melons for 
our food. You will paint and I will do embroidery, from which 
we could make enough money to buy wine, and compose 
poems over dinners. Thus, clad in simple gowns and eating 
simple meals, we could live a very happy life together with- 
out going anywhere.” I fully agreed with her. Now the place 
is still there while the one who knows my heart is dead. Alas, 
such is life! 

IV. On Rocks and Trees 

I don’t know what we are going to do now. We are building 
houses square and are building them in a row, and we are having 
straight roads without trees. There are no more crooked streets, no 
more old houses, no more wells in one’s garden, and whatever 
private garden there is in the city is usually a caricature. We have 
quite successfully shut nature out from our lives, and we are living 


2 93 

in houses without roofs, the roofs being the neglected end of a 
building, left in any old shape after the utilitarian purposes have 
been served and the building contractor is a litde tired and in a 
hurry to get through his job. The average building looks like 
wooden blocks built by a peevish or fickle child who is tired of the 
game before he finishes building, and leaves them unfinished and 
uncrowned. The spirit of Nature has left the modern civilized man, 
and it seems to me we are trying to civilize the trees themselves. 
If we ever remember to plant them on boulevards, we usually 
number them serially, disinfect them, cut them and trim them 
to assume a shape that we humans consider beautiful. 

We often plant flowers and lay them out on a plot so that they 
resemble either a circle, or a star, or different letters of the alpha- 
bet, and we are horrified when some of the flowers so planted get 
out of line, as we are horrified when we see a West Point cadet 
march out of step, and we proceed to cut them down with scissors. 
And at Versailles, we plant these conically cut trees in pairs and 
arrange them with perfect symmetry along a perfecdy round circle 
or in perfectly rectilinear rows in army formation. Such is human 
glory and power and our ability to train and discipline the trees 
as we train and discipline uniformed soldiers. If one tree of a pair 
grows taller than the other, our hands itch to cut off its top so as 
not to let it disturb our sense of symmetry and human power and 

There exists, therefore, the great problem of recovering nature 
and bringing nature back to the home. This is an exasperating 
problem. What can one do with the best artistic temperament, 
when one lives in an apartment and away from the soil? How is 
one going to have a plot of grass or a well or a bamboo grove even 
if he is rich enough to rent a penthouse? Everything is wrong, 
utterly and irretrievably wrong. What has one got left to admire 
except tall skyscrapers and lighted windows in a row at night? 
Looking at these skyscrapers and these lighted windows in a row 
at night, one gets more and more conceited about the power of 
human civilization and forgets what puny little creatures human 


beings are. I am therefore forced to give up the problem as hope- 
less of solution. 

We must begin, therefore, by giving man land and plenty of it. 
No matter what the excuse, a civilization that deprives man of 
land is wrong. But suppose in a future civilization every man is 
able to own an acre of land, then he has got something to start 
with. He can have trees, his own trees, and rocks, his own rocks. 
He will be careful to choose a site where there are already full- 
grown trees, and if there are not already full-grown trees, he will 
plant trees that grow fast enough for him, such as bamboos and 
willows. Then he will not have to keep birds in cages, for birds 
will come to him and he will see to it that there are frogs in the 
neighborhood, and preferably also some lizards and spiders. His 
children will then be able to study nature in Nature and not study na- 
ture in a glass case. At least his children will be able to watch how 
chickens hatch from their eggs and they need not be woefully 
ignorant about sex and reproduction as the children of “good” 
Boston families often are. And they will have the pleasure of 
watching a fight between lizards and spiders. And they will have 
the pleasure also of getting comfortably dirty. 

The Chinese sentiment for rocks has already been explained, or 
hinted at, in a previous section . 7 That explanation sufficiently ac- 
counts for the love of rocky peaks in Chinese landscape painting. 
This explanation is basic, but it does not sufficiently account for 
Chinese rock gardens and the love of rocks in general. The basic 
idea is that rocks are enormous, strong and suggest eternity. They 
are silent, unmovable and have strength of character like great 
heroes, and they are independent and detached from life like re- 
tired scholars. They are invariably old, and the Chinese love what- 
ever is old. Above all, from the artistic point of view they have 
grandeur, majesty, ruggedness, and quaintness. There is the 
further sentiment of wei, which means “dangerous” but is really 
untranslatable. A tall cliff that rises abruptly three hundred feet 
7 See above, Section II. 



above the ground is always fascinating to look at because of its 
suggestion of “danger.” 

But then it is necessary to go further. As one cannot visit the 
mountains every day, it is necessary to have rocks brought to the 
home. In the case of rock gardens and artificial rock grottoes, a 
subject which is difficult for Western travelers in China to under- 
stand and appreciate, the idea is still to retain a suggestion of the 
rugged, “dangerous” and majestic lines of rocky peaks. Western 
travelers are not to blame because most of the rockeries are done 
with atrocious taste, and fail to convey the suggestion of natural 
grandeur and majesty. Artificial grottoes built out of several pieces 
of rock are usually cemented together, and the cement shows. A 
really artistic rockery should have the composition and contrast of 
a painting. There is no question that the artistic appreciation of 
artificial rock sceneries and that of mountain rocks in landscape 
painting are closely associated, as we find the Sung painter, Mi 
Fei, was the author of a book on ink-stones, and there was a book 
Shihp'u on rocks by a Sung author, Tu Kuan, giving detailed 
descriptions of the quality of over a hundred kinds of rocks pro- 
duced at different places and used for rockeries, showing that rock- 
eries were already a highly developed art in the time of the great 
Sung painters. 

Side by side with this appreciation of the grandeur of rocks on 
mountain peaks, there developed then a different appreciation of 
rocks in gardens, emphasizing their color, texture, surface, grains 
and sometimes the sounds they produced when struck. The smaller 
the stones, the more emphasis was laid on quality of texture and 
color of grains. The development along this direction was greatly 
helped by the hobby of collecting the finest ink-stones and seals, 
two things which the literary man in China daily associated with. 
Daintiness, texture, light or translucence and shades of color be- 
came then of the first importance, as also in the case of stone, jade 
and jadeite snuff bottles, which came later. A good stone seal or a 
good snuff bottle could cost six or seven hundred dollars. 

For the fullest appreciation of all uses of stone in the house and 


gardens, however, one has to go back to Chinese calligraphy. For 
calligraphy is nothing but a study of rhythm and line and com- 
position in the abstract. While really good pieces of rock should 
suggest majesty or detachment from life, it is even more important 
that the lines be correct. By line one does not mean a straight line, 
or a circle or a triangle, but the rugged lines of nature. Laotse, “The 
Old Boy,” always emphasized in his Taotehching the uncarved 
rock. Let us not tamper with Nature, for the best work of art, like 
the best poem or literary composition, is one which shows no sign 
of human effort, as natural as a winding river or a sailing cloud, 
or as the Chinese literary critics always say, “without ax and 
chisel marks.” This applies to every field of art. The appreciation is 
of beauty in irregularity, in lines that suggest rhythm and move- 
ment and gesture. The appreciation of the gnarled roots of an oak 
tree, sometimes used as stools in a rich man’s studio, is based on 
the same idea. Consequently most of the rockeries found in Chi- 
nese gardens are uncut rocks, which may be the fossilized bark of 
a tree ten or fifteen feet high standing vertically alone and unmov- 
able like a great man, or of rocks found in lakes and caves, gen- 
erally bearing perforations and having the utmost irregularity of 
outline. One writer suggested that if the perforations happen to 
be perfectly round, some little pebble should be inserted to break 
up the regularity of the circle. Rockeries near Shanghai and Soo- 
chow are mostly built of rocks from the Taihu Lake, bearing 
marks of former sea waves. Such rocks were dug out of the bottom 
of the lake, and sometimes when something was needed to correct 
their lines, they would be chiseled until they were perfect and let 
down into the water again for a year or so, so that the chisel marks 
might be obliterated by the movement of water. 

The feeling for trees is easier to understand, and is, of course, 
universal. Houses without trees around them are naked, like men 
and women without clothing. The difference between trees and 
houses is that houses are built but trees grow, and anything which 
grows is always more beautiful to look at than anything which is 
built. There are considerations of practical convenience which force 



us to build our walls straight and our stories level, although in the 
matter of floors, there is absolutely no reason why the floors of 
different rooms in a house should not be on different levels. Never- 
theless, there is an inevitable tendency to go in for straight lines and 
square shapes, and such straight lines and square shapes can be 
brought into pleasurable relief only by the company of trees. In 
the color scheme, too, we dare not paint our houses green. But 
nature dares and has painted the trees green. 

The wisdom of art consists in concealing art. We are so anxious 
to show off. In this respect, I must pay my tribute to a great 
scholar of the Manchu Dynasty, Yuan Yuan, who as governor had 
an islet built in the water of the West Lake, known today as 
Governor Yuan’s Islet, and who refused to put a single human 
edifice on the place, not a pavilion, not a pillar, not even a monu- 
ment. He completely obliterated himself as an architect. Today 
the Governor Yuan’s Islet stands in the middle of the lake, a level 
piece of land about a hundred yards across, rising barely a foot 
above the water and planted all around with willow trees. And 
today as you stand looking at it on a misty day, the magic island 
seems to rise out of the water, and the willow trees cast their reflec- 
tions in the water, breaking the monotony of the lake’s surface and 
harmonizing with it. Therefore Governor Yuan’s Islet is in perfect 
harmony with nature. It is not obtrusive to the eye, like the light- 
house-shaped monument next to it built by a student returned 
from America, which gives me inflammation of the eyelids every 
time I look at it. I have made a public promise that if one day I 
should emerge as a bandit general and capture Hangchow, my first 
official act would be to direct a cannon and blow that lighthouse- 
shaped thing to pieces. 

Out of the myriad variety of trees, Chinese critics and poets have 
come to feel that there are a few which are particularly good for 
artistic enjoyment, due to their special lines and contours which 
are aesthetically beautiful from a calligrapher’s point of view. The 
point is, that while all trees are beautiful, certain trees have a par- 
ticular gesture or strength or gracefulness. These trees are there- 


fore picked out from among the others and associated with definite 
sentiments. It is clear that an ordinary olive tree has no rugged 
manner, for which we go to the pine, and while a willow is grace- 
ful, it can never be said to be “majestic” or “inspiring.” There are 
then a small number of trees which are more constantly painted in 
paintings and sung about in poems. Of these the most outstanding 
are the pine tree, enjoyed for its grand manner, the plum tree, 
enjoyed for its romantic manner, the bamboo tree, enjoyed for its 
delicacy of line and the suggestion of the home, and the willow 
tree, enjoyed for its gracefulness and its suggestion of slender 

The enjoyment of the pine tree is probably most notable and 
of the greatest poetic significance. It typifies better than other trees 
the conception of nobility of manner. For there are trees noble and 
trees ignoble, trees distinguished for their grand manner and trees 
of the common manner. The Chinese artists therefore speak of 
the grand old manner of the pine tree, as Matthew Arnold spoke 
of the grand manner of Homer. It would be as hopeless to look 
for this grand manner in willows among the trees, as it is to look 
for the grand manner of poetry in Swinburne among the poets. 
There are so many kinds of beauty, beauty of tenderness, of grace- 
fulness, of majesty, of austerity, of quaintness, of ruggedness, of 
sheer strength, and of a suggestion of the antique. It is this antique 
manner of the pine tree that gives the pine a special position among 
the trees, as it is the antique manner of a recluse scholar, clad in a 
loose-fitting gown, holding a bamboo cane and walking on a moun- 
tain path, that sets him off as the highest ideal among men. For 
this reason Li Liweng says that to sit in an orchard full of peach 
trees and flowers and willows without a pine nearby is like sitting 
in the company of young children and women without the presence 
of an austere master or old man, whom we can look up to. It is 
also for this reason that when Chinese admire pine trees, they go in 
for the old ones; the older the better, for then they become more 
majestic. Classed with the pine tree is the cedar cypress which has 
the same manner, particularly the kind known as selaginela invol - 



vens, with twisting, encircling and ruggedly downward-pointing 
branches. While branches that stretch upwards toward heaven seem 
to symbolize youth and aspiration, downward-pointing branches 
seem to symbolize the posture of old men bending down toward 

I say the enjoyment of pine trees is artistically most significant, 
because it represents silence and majesty and detachment from 
life which are so similar to the manner of the recluse. This enjoy- 
ment is then associated with “stupid” rocks and with figures of 
old people loitering around underneath its shade, as we so often 
see in Chinese paintings. As one stands there beneath a pine tree, 
he looks up to it with a sense of its majesty and its old age, and its 
strange happiness in its own independence. Laotse says, “Nature 
does not talk,” nor does the old pine tree. There it stands silent 
and imperturbable; from its height it looks down upon us, think- 
ing it has seen so many children grow up into maturity and so 
many middle-aged people pass on to old age. Like wise, old men, it 
understands everything, but it does not talk, and therein lie its 
mystery and grandeur. 

The plum tree is enjoyed partly for its romantic manner in its 
branches, and partly for the fragrance in its flowers. It is curious 
that among the trees selected for our poetic enjoyment, the pine 
tree, the plum tree and the bamboo are associated with winter, 
being known as the “Three Friends of Winter,” for the bamboo 
tree and the pine tree are evergreens, while the plum tree blossoms 
at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The plum tree, 
therefore, in particular, symbolizes purity of character, the purity 
that we find in the crisp, cold winter air. Its splendor is a cold 
splendor, and like the recluse, the cooler the atmosphere it finds 
itself in, the better it prospers. Like the orchid flower, it typifies the 
idea of charm in seclusion. A Sung poet and recluse, Lin Hoching, 
declared that he had married plum trees as his wives, and had a 
stork for his son. Today the site of his seclusion on the Kushan in 
the middle of the West Lake is an object of pilgrimage for poets 
and scholars, and below his tomb is the tomb of the stork, his 


“son.” Now the appreciation of the plum tree, of its type of frag- 
rance and its outline, is best expressed by this poet in his famous 
line of seven words: 

An hsiang fou tung yin heng sheh 

“Its dim fragrance floats around, its shadow leaning across.” It is 
admitted by all poets that the essence of the beauty of the plum is 
expressed in those seven words and cannot be improved upon. 

The bamboo tree is loved for its delicacy of trunk and leaves, 
and being more delicate, it is more enjoyed in the intimacy of a 
scholar’s home. Its beauty is more a kind of smiling beauty and the 
happiness it gives us is mild and temperate. Bamboos are best en- 
joyed when they are thin and slender and sparse, and for this reason 
two or three trees are as good as a whole bamboo grove, either in 
life or in painting. The appreciation of its slender outlines makes it 
possible to paint just two or three twigs of bamboo in a picture, as it 
is also possible to paint a single twig of plum flowers. Somehow its 
slender lines go very well with the rugged lines of rocks, and hence 
one finds always one or two rocks painted along with a few bam- 
boos. Such rocks are invariably painted as having the beauty of 

The willow grows easily anywhere and often on a bank . 8 It is 
the feminine tree par excellence. That is why Chang Ch’ao counts 
the willow among the four things in the universe which touch 
man’s heart most profoundly, and why he says the willow tree 
makes a man sentimental. Chinese ladies of slender waist are said 
to have “willow waists,” and Chinese female dancers, with their 
long sleeves and their flowing robe, try to simulate the movement 
of willow branches swaying and bowing in the wind. As willows 
grow most easily, there are places in China where willows are 
planted for miles around and then when a wind blows over them, 
the effect of the combination is spoken of as “willow-waves,” or 
liulang. Furthermore, as orioles love to perch on their hanging 

8 I have translated in My Country and My People a passage by Li Liweng on the 
enjoyment of the willow tree. 



branches, they are associated in pictures or in life with the presence 
of orioles, or with cicadas which also love to rest there. One of the 
ten scenic spots of the West Lake is therefore called Liulang Wen 
Ying, or “Listening to Orioles among Willow-Waves.” 

There are of course other trees, and a good number of them 
admired for other reasons, like the tvut'ung ( sterculia platanitolia) , 
admired for the cleanliness of its bark and the possibility of carving 
poems on its smooth surface with a knife. There is also great love 
of gigantic old creepers, two or three inches across at their roots, 
encircling old trees or rocks. Their encircling and undulating 
movement contrasts pleasurably with the straight trunks of erect 
trees. Sometimes a particularly good creeper suggests a sleeping 
dragon and is given that name. Old trees that have zigzag and 
more or less sloping trunks are also greatly loved and valued 
for this reason. At Mutu, a point on the Taihu Lake near Soochow, 
there are four such cypress trees which have been given the four 
respective names “Pure,” “Rare,” “Antique” and “Quaint.” “Pure” 
goes up by a long, straight trunk, spreading out a foliage on top 
resembling an umbrella; “Rare” crouches on the ground and rolls 
along in three zigzag bands like the letter “Z”; “Antique” is bald 
and bare at the top and broad and stumpy, with its straggling 
limbs half dried up and resembling a man’s fingers; and “Quaint’s” 
trunk twists around in spiral formation all the way up to its high- 
est branches. 

Above all, the enjoyment of trees is not only in and for them- 
selves, but in association with other elements of nature, such as 
rocks, clouds, birds, insects and human beings. Chang Ch’ao says 
that “planting flowers serves to invite butterflies, piling up rocks 
serves to invite clouds, planting pine trees serves to invite the wind, 
. . . planting banana trees serves to invite the rain, and planting 
willow trees serves to invite the cicada.” One enjoys the sounds of 
birds along with the trees, and enjoys the sounds of crickets along 
with the rocks, for birds sings where trees are, and crickets sing 
where rocks are found. The Chinese enjoyment of croaking frogs, 
chirping crickets and intoning cicadas is immeasurably greater than 


their love of cats and dogs and other animal pets. Among all the 
animals, the only one which belongs in the same category with pine 
trees and plum trees is the stork, because he, too, is the symbol of 
the recluse. As one sees a stork, or even a heron, standing motionless 
in the marshes of some secluded pond, dignified, elegant and white 
and pure, the scholar wishes that he were a stork himself. 

The final picture of man harmonizing with nature and happy 
because the animals are happy is best expressed by Cheng Panch’iao 
(1693-1765) in his letter to his younger brother, pointing out his 
disapproval of keeping birds in cages: 

In regard to what I said about not keeping birds in cages, 

I wish to add that it isn’t that I don’t love birds, but there is a 
proper way of loving them. The best way of keeping birds is 
to plant hundreds of trees around the house, and let them 
find in their green shade a bird kingdom and bird homes. So 
then, at dawn, when we have waked up from sleep and are 
still tossing about in bed, we hear a chorus of chirping songs 
like a celestial symphony. When we have got up and put on 
our gowns and are washing our faces or gargling our mouths 
or sipping the morning tea, we see their gorgeous plumes flit- 
ting to and fro, and before we have time to look at one, our 
eyes are attracted by another — an enjoyment that is not to be 
compared with looking at a single bird in a single cage. Gener- 
ally the enjoyment of life should come from a view regarding 
the universe as a park and the rivers and lakes as a pond, so 
that all beings can live according to their nature, and great 
indeed is such happiness! How does this compare in kindness 
and cruelty and in the magnitude of enjoyment with the en- 
joyment of a bird in a cage, or of a fish in a jar! 

V. On Flowers and Flower Arrangements 

There seems to be a certain randomness about the enjoyment of 
flowers and flower arrangements, as we know it today. The enjoy- 
ment of flowers, like the enjoyment of trees, must begin with the 
selection of certain noble varieties, with a sense of grading of their 
relative standing, and with the association of definite sentiments 



and surroundings with definite flowers. To begin with, there is 
the matter of fragrance, from the strong and obvious, like that of 
jasmine, to the delicate, like that of lilac, and finally to the most 
refined and subde kind, like that of the Chinese orchid. The more 
subtle and less easily perceivable its fragrance, the more noble the 
flower may be regarded. Then there is the matter of color and 
appearance and charm, which again varies a great deal. Some are 
like buxom lassies and others are like slender, poetic, quiet ladies. 
Some seem to pander their charms to the crowd, and others are 
happy in their own fragrant being and seem contented merely to 
dream their hours away. Some go in for a dash of color, while others 
have a milder and more restrained taste. Above all, flowers are 
always associated with the outward surroundings and seasons of 
their bloom. The rose is naturally associated in our minds with a 
bright sunny spring day; the lotus is naturally associated with a 
cool summer morning on a pond; the cassia is naturally associated 
with the harvest moon and mid-autumn festivities; the chrysam 
themum is associated with the eating of crabs in late autumn; the 
plum is naturally associated with snow and together with the 
narcissus it forms a definite part of our enjoyment of the New 
Year. Each seems perfect in its own natural surroundings, and it 
is the easiest of all things for lovers of flowers to make them stand 
in our mind for definite pictures of the different seasons, as the 
holly stands for Christmas. 

Like the pine tree and the bamboo, the orchid, the chrysanthe- 
mum and the lotus are selected for certain definite qualities and 
stand in Chinese literature as symbols for the gentleman, the orchid 
more particularly for an exotic beauty. The plum flower is probably 
most beloved by Chinese poets among all flowers, and has been 
partly dealt with already in the previous section. It is said to be the 
“first” among the flowers, because it comes with the New Year 
and therefore stands first in the procession of flowers in the course 
of the year. Opinions differ, of course, and the peony has been tra- 
ditionally regarded as the “king of flowers,” particularly in the 
T’ang Dynasty. On the other hand, the peony being rich in its colors 


and its petals, is rather regarded as the symbol of the rich and happy 
man, whereas the plum flower is the poet’s flower, and symbol of 
the quiet, poor scholar, and therefore the latter is spiritual as the 
former is materialistic. One scholar voiced his sympathy for the 
peony only because of the fact that, when Empress Wu of the T’ang 
Dynasty commanded one day, in one of her megalomaniac whims, 
that all the flowers in the Imperial garden should bloom on a certain 
day in mid-winter, just because she wanted it, the peony was the 
only one that dared to offend her Imperial Majesty by blooming a 
few hours late, and consequently, all the thousands of pots of peony 
flowers were banished by Imperial decree from Sian, the capital, to 
Loyang. Although falling out of Imperial favor, the cult of the 
peony was still maintained and Loyang became a center for peony 
flowers. I think the reason that the Chinese do not place more im- 
portance on the rose is because its color and shape belong in the 
same class with the peony, but have been overshadowed by the lat- 
ter’s gorgeousness. According to early Chinese sources, there were 
ninety varieties of the peony distinguished, and each was given a 
most poetic name. 

Unlike the peony, the orchid stands as the symbol of secluded 
charm because it is often found in a deserted shady valley. It is 
said to have the virtue of “enjoying its own lonely charm,” not 
caring whether people look at it or not, and extremely unwilling 
to be moved into the city. If it consents to be moved, it must be 
cultivated on its own terms, or it dies. Hence we often speak of a 
beautiful secluded maiden, or a great scholar living away in the 
mountains with contempt for power and fame, as “a secluded 
orchid in a deserted valley.” Its fragrance is so subde that it doesn’t 
seem to make a particular effort to please anybody, but when 
people do appreciate it, how divine is its fragrance! This makes it 
a symbol for the gentleman not caring to cater to the public, and 
also for true friendship, because an ancient book says, “After enter- 
ing and remaining in a house with orchids for a long time, one 
ceases to feel the fragrance,” when he himself is permeated with 
it. Li Liweng advised that the best way to enjoy orchids was not 


to place them in all rooms, but only in one room and then to 
enjoy the fragrance when passing out and in. American orchids do 
not seem to have this subtle fragrance, but on the other hand, are 
bigger and more gorgeous in shape and color. In my native city 
and province, we are supposed to have the best orchids in China, 
known as “Fukien orchids.” The flower is pale green with spots of 
purple and is of a very much smaller size, the petals being slightly 
over an inch long. The best and most highly valued variety, the 
Ch’en Mengliang, has such a color that it is barely visible when 
immersed in water, being of the same color as the water itself. Un- 
like the peony, whose varieties are known after their place of origin, 
the different famous varieties of the orchid are known, like many 
American flower varieties, after their owners, as “General P’u,” 
“Quartermaster Shun,” “Judge Li,” “Eighth Brother Huang,” 
“Chen Mengliang,” “Hsu Chingch’u.” 

There is no question that the extreme difficulty of cultivating 
orchids and the flower’s extreme delicacy of health contributed to 
the idea of its nobility of character. Among all the flowers, the 
orchid is the one that most easily withers or rots away with the 
slightest mishandling. Hence an orchid-lover always attends to it 
with his personal care and does not leave it to the servants, and 
I have seen people caring for their orchids like their own parents. 
An extremely valuable plant aroused as much jealousy as a partic- 
ularly good piece of bronze or vase, and hatred from a friend’s 
refusal to give away its new offshoots could be extremely bitter. 
Chinese notebooks record the case of a scholar who was refused 
new offshoots from a plant and was sentenced to jail for stealing 
it. This sentiment is well expressed by Shen Fu in Six Chapters of 
a Floating Life in the following manner: 

The orchid was prized most among all the flowers because 
of its subdued fragrance and graceful charm, but it was difficult 
to obtain really good classic varieties. When Lanp’o died, he 
presented me with a pot of spring orchids, whose flowers had 
lotus-shaped petals; the centre of the flowers was broad and 
white, the petals were very neat and even at the “shoulders,” 


and the stems were very slender. This type was classical, and I 
prized it like a piece of old jade. When I was working away 
from home, Yiin used to take care of it personally and it grew 
beautifully. After two years, it died suddenly one day. I dug 
up its roots and found that they were white like marble, while 
nothing was wrong with the sprouts, either. At first, I could 
not understand this, but ascribed it with a sigh merely to my 
own bad luck, which might be unworthy to raise such flowers. 
Later on, I found out that some one had asked for some of the 
flowers from the same pot, had been refused, and had there- 
fore killed it by pouring boiling water over it. Thenceforth I 
swore I would never grow orchids again. 

The chrysanthemum is the flower of the poet T’ao Yiianming, 
as the plum flower was the flower of the poet Lin Hoching, and 
the lotus was the flower of the Confucian doctrinaire, Chou 
Liench’i. Blooming in late autumn, it shares the idea of “cold 
fragrance” and “cold splendor.” The contrast between the cold 
splendor of the chrysanthemum and the gorgeous splendor, say, of 
the peony is easily seen and understood. Hundreds of varieties exist, 
and so far as I know, a great Sung scholar, Fan Ch’engta, started 
the fashion of recording its different varieties with the most beau- 
tiful names. Variety seems to be the very essence of the chrys- 
anthemum flower, both variety of shape and of color. The white and 
the yellow are regarded as the “orthodox” colors of the flower, 
while purple and red are regarded as deviations and therefore 
given a low grading. The colors of white and yellow gave rise to 
the names of the varieties like “Silver Bowl,” “Silver Bells,” 
“Golden Bells,” “Jade Basin,” “Jade Bells,” “Jade Embroidered 
Ball.” Some were given the names of famous beauties, like “Yang 
Kueifei” and “Hsishih.” Sometimes their shapes resemble a lady’s 
close-cropped hair and sometimes their quills resemble flowing 
locks. Some varieties have more fragrance than others, and the 
best are supposed to have the fragrance of musk, or of an incense 
called “Dragon’s Brains.” 

The lotus or water lily is in a class by itself and seems to me 
personally the most beautiful of all flowers, when we consider the 


flower, including its stem and its leaves floating on the water, as a 
whole. It is impossible to enjoy summer without having lotus flowers 
around, and if one does not have a house near a pond, he can 
grow them in big earthen jars. In this case, however, we miss much 
of the beauty of a half a mile’s stretch of lotus flowers, their 
perfume pervading the air, and their white and red tipped blos- 
soms contrasting with their broad green leaves with water running 
on them like liquid pearls. (The American water lilies are different 
from the lotus.) The Sung scholar Chou wrote an essay explaining 
why he loved the lotus and pointing out that the lotus, like the 
gentleman, grew out of dirty water but was not contaminated by it. 
He was talking like a regular Confucian doctrinaire. From the 
utilitarian point of view, every part of the flower is utilized. The 
lotus root is used to make a cooling drink, its leaves are used for 
wrapping fruits or food to be steamed, its flowers are enjoyed for 
their shape and fragrance, and finally the lotus seed is regarded as 
the food of the fairies, either eaten raw, fresh from the pod, or dried 
and sugared. 

The hait’ang pyrus, resembling apple-blossoms, enjoys as great a 
popularity among poets as any other flower, although Tu Fu failed 
to make a single mention of this flower which grew in his native 
province, Szechuen. Various explanations have been offered, but the 
most plausible one was that the hait’ang was his mother’s name and 
he had avoided it out of deference to his mother. There are only two 
flowers for whose fragrance I am willing to forego the orchid, and 
they are the cassia and the narcissus. The last is also a special product 
of my native city, Changchow, and its import into the United States 
in the form of cultivated roots at one time ran to hundreds of thou- 
sands of dollars, until the Department of Agriculture saw fit to 
deprive the American people of this flower with a heavenly frag- 
rance, in order to protect them from possible germs. The notion that 
the white roots of the narcissus, as clean as a fairy itself, and in- 
tended to be planted not in mud but in a glass or china basin of 
water supported with pebbles, and prepared with the utmost care, 
could contain germs is most fantastic. The azalea is supposed to be a 


tragic flower, in spite o£ its smiling beauty, because it was sup- 
posed to spring from the tears of blood of the cuckoo, who was 
formerly a boy in search of his lost brother persecuted out of home 
by a stepmother. 

Quite as important as the selection and grading of the flowers 
themselves is their arrangement in vases. This was an art that 
could be traced back at least as far as the eleventh century. The 
author of Six Chapters of a Floating Life, written at the beginning 
of the nineteenth century, gives a description of the art of arrang- 
ing flowers to resemble a picture with good composition in his 
chapter on “The Litde Pleasures of Life”: 

The chrysanthemum, however, was my passion in the autumn 
of every year. I loved to arrange these flowers in vases, but not 
to raise them in pots, not because I did not want to have them 
that way, but because I had no garden in my home and could 
not take care of them myself. Those I bought at the market 
were not properly trained and not to my liking. When arrang- 
ing chrysanthemum flowers in vases, one should take an odd, 
not even number, and each vase should have flowers of only 
one colour. The mouth of the vase should be broad so that the 
flowers can lie easily together. Whether there be half a dozen 
flowers or even thirty or forty of them in a vase, they should 
be so arranged as to come up together straight from the mouth 
of the vase, neither overcrowded, nor too much spread out, nor 
leaning against the mouth of the vase. This is called “keeping 
the handle firm.” Sometimes they can stand gracefully erect, 
and sometimes spread out in different directions. In order to 
avoid a bare monotonous effect, they should be mixed with 
some flower buds and arranged in a kind of studied disorderli- 
ness. The leaves should not be too thick and the stems should 
not be too stiff. In using pins to hold the stems up, one should 
break the long pins off, rather than expose them. This is called 
“keeping the mouth of the vase clear.” Place from three to 
seven vases on a table, depending on the size of the latter, for if 
there were too many of them, they would be overcrowded, 
looking like chrysanthemum screens at the market. The stands 
for the vases should be of different height, from three or four 
inches to two and a half feet, so that the different vases at dif- 
ferent heights would balance one another and belong inti- 


mately to one another as in a picture with unity of composition. 
To put one vase high in the centre with two low at the sides, 
or to put a low one in front and a tall one behind, or to arrange 
them in symmetrical pairs, would be to create what is vulgarly 
called “a heap of gorgeous refuse.” Proper spacing and arrange- 
ment must depend on the individual’s understanding of pictorial 

In the case of flower bowls or open dishes, the method of 
making a support for the flowers is to mix refined resin with 
elm bark, flour and oil, and heat the mixture with hot hay 
ashes until it becomes a kind of glue, and with it glue some 
nails upside down on to a piece of copper. This copper plate 
can then be heated up and glued on to the bottom of the bowl 
or dish. When it is cold, tie the flowers in groups by means of 
wire and stick them on those nails. The flowers should be 
allowed to incline sideways and not shoot up from the centre; 
it is also important that the stems and leaves should not come 
too closely together. After this is done, put some water in the 
bowl and cover up the copper support with some clean sand, 
so that the flowers will seem to grow directly from the bottom 
of the bowl. 

When picking branches from flower trees for decoration in 
vases, it is important to know how to trim them before putting 
them in the vase, for one cannot always go and pick them 
oneself, and those picked by others are often unsatisfactory. 
Hold the branch in your hand and turn it back and forth in 
different ways in order to see how it lies most expressively. 
After one has made up one’s mind about it, lop off the super- 
fluous branches, with the idea of making the twig look thin 
and sparse and quaintly beautiful. Next think how the stem 
is going to lie in the vase and with what kind of bend, so that 
when it is put there, the leaves and flowers can be shown to 
the best advantage. If one just takes any old branch in hand, 
chooses a straight section and puts it in the vase, the consequence 
will be that the stem will be too stiff, the branches will be too 
close together and the flowers and leaves will be turned in the 
wrong direction, devoid of all charm and expression. To make 
a straight twig crooked, cut a mark half way across the stem 
and insert a little piece of broken brick or stone at the joint; 
the straight branch will then become a bent one. In case the 
stem is too weak, put one or two pins to strengthen it. By 


means of this method, even maple leaves and bamboo twigs 
or even ordinary blades of grass and thisdes will look very well 
for decoration. Put a twig of green bamboo side by side with a 
few berries of Chinese matrimony vine or arrange some fine 
blades of grass together with some branches of thistle. They will 
look quite poetic, if the arrangement is correct. 

VI. The “Vase Flowers” of Yuan Chunglang 

Probably the best treatise on the arrangement of flowers was 
written by Yuan Chunglang, one of my favorite authors in other 
respects, living at the end of the sixteenth century. His book on 
the arrangement of flowers in vases, called P’ingshih, is highly 
valued in Japan, and there is known to be a “Yuan School” of 
flower arrangement. He began in his preface by noting that since 
hills and water and flowers and bamboos luckily lay outside the 
scope of the strugglers for fame and power, and furthermore, since 
such people were so busy with their engrossing pursuits and there- 
fore had no time for the enjoyment of hills and water and flowers 
and bamboos, the retiring scholar was enabled to snatch this op- 
portunity and monopolize the enjoyment of the latter for himself. 
He explained, however, that the enjoyment of vase flowers should 
never be regarded as normal, but at best only as a. temporary sub- 
stitute for people living in cities, and their enjoyment should not 
cause one to forget the greater happiness of enjoying the hills and 
lakes themselves. 

Proceeding from a consideration that one should be careful in 
admitting flowers for decoration in his studio, and that it would be 
better to have no flowers at all than to have promiscuous varieties 
admitted, he went on to describe the various types of bronze and 
porcelain vases to be used. Two types are distinguished. Those who 
are rich and possess antique bronze vessels of Han Dynasty and 
have big halls should have big flowers and tall branches standing 
in huge vases. On the other hand, scholars should have smaller 
branches of flowers to go with smaller vases, which should also be 


3 11 

carefully selected. The only exceptions allowed are the peony and 

the lotus, which being big flowers should be placed in big vases. 

In putting flowers in vases: 

One should avoid having them too profuse, or too meager. 
At most, two or three varieties may be put in a vase, and their 
relative height and arrangement should aim at the composition 
of a good picture. In placing flower vases, one should avoid 
having them in pairs, or uniform, or in a straight row. One 
should also avoid binding the flowers with string. For the 
neatness of flowers lies exactly in their irregularity and natural- 
ness of manner, like the prose of Tu Sungpo, which flows on 
or stops as it pleases, and like the poems of Li Po, which do not 
necessarily go in couplets. This is true neatness. How can it 
be called neatness when the branches and leaves merely match 
each other and red is mixed with white? The latter resemble the 
trees in the courtyard of minor provincial officials or the stone 
gateways leading to a tomb. 

In selecting and breaking off the branches, one should choose 
the slender and exquisite ones and should not have the branches 
too thick together. Only one kind of flowers should be used, 
and at most two, and the two should be so arranged together 
that they seem to grow out of one branch. . . . Generally the 
flowers should match with the vases, and they may be four or 
five inches taller than the height of the vase itself. Suppose the 
vase is two feet high and its shape is broad in the center and 
bottom, the flowers may be two feet and six or seven inches 
from the mouth of the vase. ... If the vase is tall and slender, 
one should have two branches, one long and one short, and 
perhaps stretching out in curves, and then it is better that the 
flowers are a few inches shorter than the vase itself. What is 
most to be avoided is that the flowers be too slender for the 
vase. Profusion is also to be avoided, as for instance when 
flowers are tied up together like a handle, lacking all charm. 

In placing flowers in small vases, one should let the flowers 
come out two inches shorter than the body of the vase. For 
instance, a narrow vase of eight inches should have flowers of 
only six or seven inches. But if the vases are stout in shape, 
flowers may also be two inches longer than the vases. 

The room in which flowers are placed should contain a simple 
table and a cane couch. The table must be broad and thick and 


should be of fine wood and have a smooth surface. All 
lacquered tables with decorated margins, golden-painted couches 
and stands with colored floral designs should be eliminated. 

With regard to the “bathing” of flowers, or watering them, the 
author shows a loving insight into the moods and sentiments of 
the flowers themselves: 

For flowers have their moods of happiness and sorrow and 
their time of sleep. If one bathes flowers in their morning and 
evening, at the proper time, the water is like good rain to 
them. A day with light clouds and a mild sun and the sunset 
and beautiful moon are morning to the flowers. A big storm, 
a pouring rain, a scorching sun and bitter cold are evening to 
the flowers. When their stands bask in the sunlight and their 
delicate bodies are protected from wind, that is the happy mood 
of the flowers. When they seem drunk or quiet and tired and 
when the day is misty, that is the sorrowful mood of the flowers. 
When their branches incline and rest sideways as if unable to 
hold themselves erect, that is when the flowers are dreaming 
in their sleep. When they seem to smile and look about, with 
a shining light in their eyes, that is when the flowers have 
waked up from their sleep. In their “morning” they should be 
placed in an empty pavilion or a big house; in their “evening,” 
they should be placed in a small room or a secluded chamber; 
when they are sad, they should sit quietly with abated breath, 
and when they are happy, they should smile and shout and 
tease each other; during their sleep, they should let down the 
curtain, and when they have waked up, they should attend to 
their toilet. All this is done to please their nature and regulate 
their times of getting up and going to bed. To bathe flowers in 
their “morning” is the best; to bathe them when they are asleep, 
is second; and to bathe them when they are happy is the last. 
As for bathing them during their “evening,” or during their 
sorrow, it really seems more like a way of punishing the flowers. 

The way of bathing flowers is to use fresh and sweet water 
from a spring and pour it down gently in small quantities, 
like a small shower awakening a drunken man, or like the gentle 
dew itself permeating their body. One should avoid touching 
the flowers with his hands, or picking them with the tips of 
fingers, and the work cannot be entrusted to stupid manserv- 



ants or dirty maids. Plum flowers should be bathed by recluse 
scholars, the hait’ang by charming guests, the peony by beau- 
tifully dressed young girls, the pomegranate by beautiful slave 
girls, the cassia by intelligent children, the lotus by fascinating 
concubines, the chrysanthemum by remarkable persons who 
love the ancients, and the winter plum by a slender monk. 
On the other hand, flowers blooming in the cold season should 
not be bathed, but should be protected by thin silk gauze. 

According to Yuan, certain flowers go with certain other flowers 
as their minors or “maids” in a vase. As personal maids who at- 
tended to a lady for life were an institution in old China, there 
developed the notion that beautiful ladies looked perfect when they 
had pretty maids by their side as their necessary adjuncts. Both ladies 
and maids should be beautiful, but there is a je ne sais quoi which 
stamps one type of beauty as belonging to a maid rather than to 
a mistress. Maids who were out of harmony with their mistresses 
were like stables that did not match a manor house. Carrying the 
notion over to flowers, Yuan found that, for their “maids” in the 
vase, the plum flower should have camelias, the hait’ang should 
have apple blossoms and lilacs, the peony should have cinnamon 
roses, the paeonia albiflora should have poppies and Szechuen sun- 
flowers, the pomegranate should have crape myrtle and hisbiscus 
syriacus, the lotus should have white day lilies, the cassia should 
have hisbiscus mutabilis, the chrysanthemum should have “autumn 
hait’ang” and the winter plum should have narcissus. Each maid 
is exquisite in its own way, and they differ in their voluptuous or 
elegant charms like their mistresses. Not that any slight was 
intended upon these flower maids, for they were comparable to 
the famous maids of history, the narcissus ethereal down to her 
bones like Liang Yiich’ing, the maid of the Spinster in heaven, the 
camelia and the rose fresh and youthful like the maids Hsiangfeng 
and Chingwan of the Shih and Yang families (of Chin Dynasty), 
the shanfan flower clean and “romantic” like the maid servant of 
the tragic nun-poetess, Yii Hsiianch’i, while the lilac was slender, 
the white day lily was cool and the “autumn hait’ang ” was coy, but 


savored a little of pedantry like the maid of Cheng K’angch’eng 
(scholar of Han Dynasty and profuse commentator on Confucian 
classics). 9 

Holding to his central idea that anyone who achieves notable 
results in any line, even in such matters as playing chess, must 
love it to a point of craze, Yuan develops the same idea with 
regard to the love of flowers as a hobby: 

I have found that all the people in the world who are dull 
in their conversation and hateful to look at in their faces are 
are those who have no hobbies. . . . When the ancient people 
who had a weakness for flowers heard there was a remarkable 
variety, they would travel across high mountain passes and 
deep ravines in search of them, unconscious of bodily fatigue, 
bitter cold or scorching heat, and their peeling skins, and com- 
pletely oblivious of their bodies soiled with mud. When a 
flower was about to bud, they would move their beds and 
pillows to sleep under them, watching how the flowers passed 
from infancy to maturity and finally dropped off and died. 
Or they would plant thousands in their orchards to study how 
they varied, or have just a few in their rooms to exhaust their 
interest. Some would be able to tell the size of flowers from 
smelling their leaves, and some were able to tell from the 
roots the color of their flowers. These were the people who 
were true lovers of flowers and who had a true weakness for 

In regard to the “enjoyment” (or shang ) of flowers, it is pointed 
out that: 

Enjoying them with tea is the best, enjoying them with 
conversation second, and enjoying them with wine the third. 
As for all forms of noisy behaviour and common vulgar pratde, 
they are an insult to the spirits of flowers. One should rather 
sit dumb like a fool than offend them. There is a proper 
place and time for the enjoyment of flowers and to enjoy them 
without regard to the proper circumstances would be a sacrilege. 
The flowers in the cold season should be enjoyed at the begin- 

9 Cheng’s maid was reputed to talk the classical language with her learned 
master, which is somewhat like talking Latin among the medieval scholars. 


3 X 5 

ning of snow, or after the sky has cleared after a snowfall, 
or during crescent moon, or in a warm room. The flowers in the 
warm [spring] season should be enjoyed on a clear day, or on 
a slightly chilly day, in a beautiful hall. The flowers of sum- 
mer should be enjoyed after rain, in a refreshing breeze, in 
the shade of nice trees, beneath bamboos, or on a water ter- 
race. The flowers of the cool [autumn] season should be 
enjoyed under a cool moon, at sunset, on the brink of a stone 
hall pavement, on a mossy garden path, or in the neighbor- 
hood of rugged rocks surrounded by ancient creepers. If one 
looks at flowers without regard to wind and sun and place, 
or when one’s thoughts are wandering and bear no relation 
to the flowers, what difference is it from seeing flowers in sing- 
song houses and wine taverns ? 

Finally, Yuan lists the following fourteen conditions as “pleas- 
ing” to the flowers, and “twenty-three” 10 conditions as being dis- 
graceful or humiliating to them: 

Conditions that please the flowers: 

A clear window 
A clean room 
Antique tripods 
Sung ink-stones 

“Pine waves” and river sounds 
The owner loving hobbies and 

Visiting monk understands tea 
A native of Chichow arrives with 

Guests in the room are exquisite 
Many flowers in bloom 
A carefree friend has arrived 
Copying books on flower cultiva- 

Kettle sings deep at night 
Wife and concubines editing sto- 
ries of flowers 

Conditions humiliating to the flowers : 

The owner constantly seeing 

A stupid servant putting in extra 
branches, upsetting the arrange- 

The family asking for accounts 
Writing poems by consulting 
rhyming dictionaries 
Books in bad condition lying 

10 Chinese authors are apparently indifferent to arithmetic and figures in general. 
After comparing the best available editions of Yuan’s works, I still cannot find the 
reputed “twenty-three” conditions. It really doesn’t matter whether one’s figures 
are correct. Mathematical exactitude worries only a petty soul. 


Common monks talking zen 
Dogs fighting before the window 
Singing boys of Lientse Alley 
Yiyang [Kiangsi] tunes 
Ugly women plucking flowers 
and decorating their hair with 

Discussing people’s official promo- 
tion and demotion 
False expressions of love 
Poems written for courtesy 
Flowers in full bloom before one 
has paid his debts 

Fukien agents 
Kiangsu spurious paintings 
Faeces of mice and rats 
Trailing marks of slime left by 

Servants lying about 
Wine runs out after one begins to 
play wine games 
Being neighbor to wine-shops 
A piece of writing with phrases 
like the “purple morning air” 
[common in imperial eulogies] 
on the desk 

VII. The Epigrams of Chang Ch’ao 

We have seen that the enjoyment of nature does not lie merely 
in art and painting. Nature enters into our life as a whole. It is 
all sound and color and shape and mood and atmosphere, and 
man as the perceiving artist of life begins to select the proper 
moods of nature and harmonize them with his own. This is the 
attitude of all Chinese writers of poetry or prose, but I think its 
best expression is found in the epigrams of Chang Ch’ao (mid- 
seventeenth century), in his book Yumengying (or Sweet Dream 
Shadows). This is a book of literary maxims, of which there are 
many collections, but none comparable to those written by Chang 
Ch’ao himself. Such literary maxims stand in relation to popular 
proverbs as the fairy tales of Anderson stand in relation to old 
English fairy tales, or as Schubert’s art songs stand in relation to 
folk melodies. His book has been so beloved that a group of 
Chinese scholars have added comments of their own to each of 
his maxims, in a most delightful chatty vein. I am compelled, 
however, to translate only some of the best of his maxims about 
the enjoyment of Nature. A few of his maxims on human life 
are so good and form such a vital part of the whole that I shall 
include some of them at the end. 



On What is Proper 

It is absolutely necessary that flowers should have butterflies, 
hills should have springs, rocks should have moss, water should 
have water-cress, tall trees should have entwining creepers, and 
human beings should have hobbies. 

One should enjoy flowers in the company of beauties, get 
drunk under the moon in the company of charming friends, 
and enjoy the light of snow in the company of highminded 

Planting flowers serves to invite butterflies, piling up rocks 
serves to invite the clouds, planting pine trees serves to invite 
the wind, keeping a reservoir of water serves to invite duck- 
weed, building a terrace serves to invite the moon, planting 
banana trees serves to invite the rain, and planting willow 
trees serves to invite the cicada. 

One always gets a different feeling, when looking at hills 
from the top of a tower, looking at snow from a city wall, 
looking at the moon in the lamp-light, looking at colored 
clouds in a boat, and looking at beautiful women in the room. 

Rocks lying near a plum tree should look “antique,” those 
beneath a pine tree should look “stupid,” those by the side of 
bamboo trees should look “slender,” and those inside a flower 
basin should be exquisite. 

Blue waters come from green hills, for the water borrows 
its color from the hills; good poems come from flavory wine, 
for poetry begs its inspiration from the wine. 

When the mirror meets with an ugly woman, when a rare 
ink-stone finds a vulgar owner, and when a good sword is in 
the hands of a common general, there is utterly nothing to be 
done about it. 

On Flowers and Women 

One should not see flowers wither, see the moon decline 
below the horizon, or see beautiful women die in their youth. 

One should see flowers when they are in bloom, after planting 
the flowers; should see the moon when it is full, after waiting 
for the moon; should see a book completed, after starting to 
write it; and should see beautiful women when they are gay 
and happy. Otherwise our purpose is defeated. 


One should look at beautiful ladies in the morning toilet 
after they have powdered themselves. 

There are faces that are ugly but stand looking at, and other 
faces that do not stand looking at, although not ugly; there 
are writings which are lovable although ungrammatical, and 
there are other writings which are extremely grammatical, but 
are disgusting. This is something that I cannot explain to super- 
ficial persons. 

If one loves flowers with the same heart that he loves beauties, 
he feels a special charm in them; if one loves beautiful women 
with the same heart that he loves flowers, he feels a special 
tenderness and protective affection. 

Beautiful women are better than flowers because they under- 
stand human language, and flowers are better than beautiful 
women because they give off fragrance; but if one cannot have 
both at the same time, he should forsake the fragrant ones and 
take the talking ones. 

In putting flowers in liver-colored vases, one should arrange 
them so that the size and height of the vase match with those 
of the flowers, while the shade and depth of its color should 
contrast with them. 

Most of the flowers that are seductive and beautiful are not 
fragrant, and flowers that have layers upon layers of petals 
mostly are ill-formed. Alas, rare is a perfect personality! Only 
the lotus combines both. 

The plum flower makes a man feel highminded, the orchid 
makes a man feel secluded, the chrysanthemum makes a man 
simple-hearted, the lotus makes a man contented, the spring 
hait’ang 11 makes a man passionate, the peony makes a man 
chivalrous, the bamboo and the banana tree make a man charm- 
ing, the autumn hait’ang makes a man graceful, the pine tree 
makes a man feel like a recluse, the wut'ung ( sterculia platani- 
folia ) makes a man clean-hearted, and the willow makes a man 

If a beauty should have the face of a flower, the voice of a 
bird, the soul of the moon, the expression of a willow, the 
charm of an autumn lake, bones of jade and skin of snow, 
and a heart of poetry, I should be perfectly satisfied. [I should 
say so! — Tr.] 12 

11 This is a flowering tree about ten feet high, belonging to the pyrus species, 
and bearing fruits like crab-apples. 

12 This is in the manner of the Chinese commentators. 



If there are no books in this world, then nothing need be 
said, but since there are books, they must be read; if there is no 
wine, then nothing need be said, but since there is wine, it must 
be drunk; if there are no famous hills, then nothing need be 
said, but since there are, they must be visited; if there are no 
flowers and no moon, then nothing need be said, but since there 
are, they must be enjoyed and “played”; if there are no talented 
men and beautiful women, then nothing need be said, but since 
there are, they must be loved and protected. 

The reason why a looking-glass doesn’t become the enemy 
of ugly-looking women is because it has no feeling; if it had, 
it certainly would have been smashed to pieces. 

One feels tender toward even a good potted flower that he 
has just bought; how much more should he be tender toward 
a “talking flower!” 

Without wine and poetry, hills and water would exist for 
no purpose; without the company of beautiful ladies, flowers 
and the moon would be wasted. Talented men who are at the 
same time handsome, and beautiful ladies who at the same time 
can write, can never live a long life. This is not only because 
the gods are jealous of them, but because this type of person 
is not only the treasure of one generation, but the treasure of 
all ages, so that the Creator doesn’t want to leave them in this 
world too long, for fear of sacrilege. 

On Hills and Water 

Of all the things in the universe, those that touch man most 
profoundly are: the moon in heaven, the ch’in in music, the 
cuckoo among animals, and the willow tree among plants. 

To worry with the moon about clouds, to worry with books 
about moths, to worry with flowers about storms, and to worry 
with talented men and beautiful women about a harsh fate is 
to have the heart of a Buddha. 

One dies without regret if there is one in the whole world 
a “bosom friend,” or one who “knows his heart.” 

An ancient writer said that if there were no flowers and 
moon and beautiful women, he would not want to be born 
in this world, and I might add, if there were no pen and ink 
and chess and wine, there was no purpose in being born a man. 

The light of hills, the sound of water, the color of the moon, 
the fragrance of flowers, the charm of literary men, and the 


expression of beautiful women are all illusive and indescribable. 
They make one lose sleep dreaming about them and lose 
appetite thinking about them. 

The snow reminds one of a highminded scholar; the flower 
reminds one of beautiful ladies; wine reminds one of good 
swordsmen; the moon reminds one of good friends; and hills 
and water remind one of good verse and good prose that the 
author himself is pleased with. 

There are landscapes on earth, landscapes in painting, land- 
scapes in dreams, and landscapes in one’s breast. The beauty 
of landscapes on earth lies in depth and irregularity of outline; 
the beauty of landscapes in painting lies in the freedom and 
luxuriousness of the brush and ink; the beauty of landscapes 
in dreams lies in their strangely changing views; and the beauty 
of landscapes in one’s breast lies in the fact that everything 
is in its proper place. 

For places that we pass by during our travel, we need not be 
fastidious in our artistic demands, but for places where we are 
going to settle down for life we must be fastidious in such 

The bamboo shoot is a phenomenon among the vegetables; 
the lich’i is a phenomenon among fruits; the crab is a phe- 
nomenon among aquatic animals; wine is a phenomenon among 
our foods and drinks; the moon is a phenomenon in the firma- 
ment; the West Lake is a phenomenon among hills and waters; 
and the Sung lyrics ( tse ) and Yuan dramatic poems ( ch’ii ) 
are phenomena in literature. 

In order to see famous hills and rivers, one must have also 
predestined luck; unless the appointed time has come, one has 
no time to see them even though they are situated within a 
dozen miles. 

The images in a looking-glass are portraits in color, but the 
images [shadows] under a moonlight are pen sketches. The im- 
ages in a looking-glass are paintings with solid outlines, but the 
images under a moonlight are “paintings without bones.” The 
images of hills and waters in the moon are geography in heaven, 
and the images of stars and the moon in water are astronomy on 


3 21 

On Spring and Autumn 

Spring is the natural frame of mind of heaven; autumn is one 
of its changing moods. 

The ancient people regarded winter as the “extra” [or resting 
period] of the other three seasons, but I think we should regard 
summer as the season of “three extras” : getting up at a summer 
dawn is the extra of the night; sitting at a summer night is the 
extra of the day; and an afternoon nap is the extra of social 
intercourse. Indeed, “I love the long summer days,” as an 
ancient poet says. 

One should discipline oneself in the spirit of autumn, and 
deal with others in the spirit of spring. 

Good prose and “T’ang poems” should have the spirit of 
autumn; good Sung lyrics and Yuan dramatic poems should 
have the spirit of spring . 13 

On Sounds 

One should listen to the sounds of birds in spring, to the 
sounds of cicadas in summer, to the sounds of insects in autumn 
and the sounds of snowfall in winter; he should listen to the 
sounds of playing chess in the daytime, the sounds of flute 
under the moonlight, the sounds of pine trees in the mountains, 
and the sounds of ripples on the waterside. Then he shall not 
have lived in vain. But when a young loafer starts a racket in 
the street or when one’s wife is scolding, one might just as well 
be deaf. 

Hearing the sound of geese makes one feel like in Nanking; 
hearing the sound of oars makes one feel like in Soochow, 
Ch’angchow and Huchow ; 14 hearing the sound of waves on the 
beach makes one feel like being in Chekiang; and hearing 
the sound of bells beneath the necks of thin horses makes one 
feel like being on the road to Sian. 

All sounds should be listened to at a distance; only the sounds 
of the ch'in can be listened to both at a distance and nearby. 

There is a special flavor about one’s ears when listening to 
ch’in music under pine trees, listening to a flute in the moon- 

13 Both these latter forms are highly sentimental poetry in form and feeling. 

14 The Lake District in Kiangsu. 


light, listening to a waterfall by a brook, and listening to 
Buddhist chants in the mountains. 

There are four kinds of sounds of. water: the sounds of 
cataracts, of gushing springs, of rapids, and of gullets. There 
are three kinds of sounds of wind : the sounds of “pine waves,” 
of autumn leaves, and of storm upon the water. There are 
two kinds of sounds of rain: the sounds of raindrops upon the 
leaves of wu’tung and lotus, and the sounds of rain water 
coming down from the eaves into bamboo pails. 

On Rain 

This thing called rain can make the days seem short and the 
nights seem long. 

A spring rain is like an Imperial edict conferring an honor; a 
summer rain is like a writ of pardon for a condemned criminal; 
an autumn rain is like a dirge. 

A rainy day in spring is suitable for reading; a rainy day in 
summer is suitable for playing chess; a rainy day in autumn 
is suitable for going over things in the trunks or in the attic; 
and a rainy day in winter is suitable for drinking. 

I would write a letter to the God of Rain and tell him that 
rain in spring should come after the fifteenth of the first moon 
[when the Lantern Festival is over], and continue till ten days 
before ch’ingming [the third day of the third moon, at which 
time the peach-trees begin to blossom], and come also at l{uyii 
[time for planting rice] ; that summer rain should come in the 
first and last ten days of every month [so as not to interfere with 
our enjoyment of the moon]; that autumn rain should come 
in the the first and last ten days of the seventh and the ninth 
moon [leaving the eighth moon, or mid-autumn, entirely dry for 
enjoyment of the harvest moon]; and that as for the three 
months of winter, no rain is called for at all. 

On the Moon, Wind and Water 

One is exasperated at the crescent moon for declining so 
early, and exasperated at the waning moon in its third quarter 
for coming up so late. 

To listen to a Buddhist lesson under the moon makes one’s 
mental mood more detached; to discuss swordmanship under 
the moon makes one’s courage more inspired; to discuss poetry 


3 2 3 

under the moon makes one’s personal flavor more charming 
in seclusion; and to look at beautiful women under the moon 
makes one’s passion deeper. 

The method of “playing” the moon is to look up at it from 
a low place when it is clear and bright, and to look down at 
it from a height when it is hazy and unclear. 

The spring wind is like wine; the summer wind is like tea; 
the autumn wind is like smoke; and the winter wind is like 

On Leisure and Friendship 

Only those who take leisurely what the people of the world 
are busy about can be busy about what the people of the 
world take leisurely. 

There is nothing that man enjoys more than leisure, and 
this does not mean that one simply does nothing during that 
time. Leisure enables one to read, to travel to famous places, to 
form beneficial friendships, to drink wine, and to write books. 
What greater pleasures can there be in the world than these? 

When a cloud reflects the sun, it becomes a colored cloud 
(hsia), and when a spring gullet flows over a cliff, it becomes 
a waterfall. By a different association, it is given a new name. 
That is why friendship is so valuable. 

When celebrating the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth of 
the first moon, one should drink with nonchalant friends; 
when celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival on the fifth of the 
fifth moon, one should drink with handsome friends; when 
celebrating the annual reunion of the Cowherd and the Spin- 
ning Maid in Heaven on the seventh day of the seventh moon, 
one should drink with friends who have charm; when looking 
at the harvest moon, at the Mid-Autumn Festival, one should 
drink with quiet or mild-tempered friends; when going up 
to high mountains on the ninth day of the ninth moon, one 
should drink with romantic friends. 

To talk with learned friends is like reading a rare book; 
to talk with poetic friends is like reading the poems and prose 
of distinguished writers; to talk with friends who are careful 
and proper in their conduct is like reading the classics of the 
sages; and to talk with witty friends is like reading a novel 
or romance. 

Every quiet scholar is bound to have some bosom friends. 


By “bosom friends” I do not mean necessarily those who have 
sworn a life-and-death friendship with us. Generally bosom 
friends are those who, although separated by hundreds or thou- 
sands of miles, still have implicit faith in us and refuse to believe 
rumors against us; those who on hearing a rumor, try every 
means to explain it away; those who in given moments advise 
us as to what to do and what not to do; and those who at the 
critical hour come to our help, and, sometimes without our 
knowing, undertake of their own accord to setde a financial 
account, or make a decision, without for a moment question- 
ing whether by doing so they are not making themselves open 
to criticism of perhaps injuring our interests. 

It is easier to find bosom friends (“those who know our 
hearts”) among friends than among one’s wife and concu- 
bines, and it is still more difficult to find a bosom friend in the 
relationship between ruler and ministers. 

A “remarkable book” is one which says things that have 
never been said before, and a “bosom friend” is one who 
unburdens to us his family secrets. 

Living in the country is only enjoyable when one has got 
good friends with him. One soon gets tired of the peasants 
and woodcutters who know only how to distinguish the 
different kinds of grains and to forecast the weather. Again, 
among the different kinds of friends, those who can write 
poems are the best, those who can talk or hold a conversation 
come second, those who can paint come next, those who can 
sing come fourth, and those who understand wine games come 

On Boo\s and Reading 

Reading books in one’s youth is like looking at the moon 
through a crevice; reading books in middle age is like looking 
at the moon in one’s courtyard; and reading books in old age 
is like looking at the moon on an open terrace. This is because 
the depth of benefits of reading varies in proportion to the 
depth of one’s own experience. 

Only one who can read books without words [/. e., the book 
of life itself] can say strikingly beautiful things; and only 
one who understands truth difficult to explain by words can 
grasp the highest Buddhist wisdom. 


3 2 5 

All immortal literature of the ancients and the moderns was 
written with blood and tears. 

All Men Are Brothers ( Shuihu ) is a book of anger, The 
Monkey Epic ( Hsiyuchi ) is a book of spiritual awakening, and 
Gold-Vase Plum ( Chinp’ingmei ) [a pornographic novel] is 
a book of sorrow. 

Literature is landscape on the desk, and a landscape is litera- 
ture on the earth. 

Reading is the greatest of all joys, but there is more anger 
than joy in reading history. But after all there is pleasure in such 
anger. 16 

One should read the classics in winter, because then one’s 
mind is more concentrated; read history in summer, because 
one has more time; read the ancient philosophers in autumn, 
because they have such charming ideas; and read the collected 
works of later authors in spring, because then Nature is coming 
back to life. 

When literary men talk about military affairs, it is mostly 
military science in the studio [literally, “discussing soldiers on 
paper”]; and when military generals discuss literature, it is 
mostly rumors picked up on hearsay. 

A man who knows how to read finds everything becomes 
a book wherever he goes: hills and waters are also books, and 
so are chess and wine, and so are the moon and flowers. A 
good traveler finds that everything becomes a landscape wher- 
ever he goes: books and history are landscapes, and so are 
wine and poetry, and so are the moon and flowers. 

An ancient writer said that he would like to have ten years 
devoted to reading, ten years devoted to travel and ten years 
devoted to preservation and arrangement of what he had 
got. I think that preservation should not take ten years and two 
or three years should be enough. As for reading and travel, I 
do not think even twice or five times the period suggested would 
be enough to satisfy my desires. To do so one would have to 
live three hundred years, as Huang Chiuyen says. 

The ancient people said that “poetry becomes good only after 
one becomes poor or unsuccessful,” 16 for the reason that an 

15 By “anger” is meant one’s feeling mad reading in history about a good man 
being shot or a government falling into the hands of eunuchs and dictators. This 
feeling mad is aesthetically a beautiful sensation. 

16 The idea is that poetry acquires depth through sorrow. 


unsuccessful man usually has a lot of things to say, and it is 
thus easy to show himself to advantage. How can the poetry 
of the rich and successful people be good when they neither 
sigh over their poverty nor complain about their being unpro- 
moted, and when all they write about are the wind, the clouds, 
the moon and the dew? The only way for such a person to 
write poetry is to travel, so that all he sees on his way, the hills 
and rivers and people’s customs and ways of life, and perhaps 
the sufferings of people during war or famine, may all go into 
his poems. Thus borrowing from the sorrows of other people, 
for the purpose of his own songs and sighs, one can write good 
poetry without waiting to be poor or unsuccessful. 

On Living in General 

Passion holds up the bottom of the universe and genius paints 
up its roof. 

Better be insulted by common people than be despised by 
gentlemen; better be flunked by an official examiner than be 
unknown to a famous scholar. 

A man should so live as to be like a poem, and a thing 
should so look as to be like a picture. 

There are scenes which sound very exquisite, but are really 
sad and forlorn, as for instance a scene of mist and rain; there 
are situations which sound very poetic, but are really hard to 
bear, as for instance sickness and poverty; and there are sounds 
which seem charming when mentioned, but are really vulgar, 
as for instance the voices of girls selling flowers. 

I cannot be a farmer myself, and all I can do is to water 
the garden; I cannot be a woodcutter myself, and all I can 
do is to pull out the weeds. 

My regrets, or things that exasperate me, are ten: (i) that 
book bags are easily eaten by moths, (2) that summer nights 
are spoiled by mosquitos, (3) that a moon terrace easily leaks, 
(4) that the leaves of chrysanthemums often wither, (5) that 
pine trees are full of big ants, (6) that bamboo leaves fall in 
great quantities upon the ground, (7) that the cassia and lotus 
flowers easily wither, (8) that the pilo plant often conceals 
snakes, (9) that flowers on a trellis have thorns, and (10) that 
porcupines are often poisonous to eat. 

It is extremely pretty to stand outside a window and see 


someone writing characters on the window paper from the 

One should be the hsuan [hemerocalis fiava, a plant called 
“Forget-sorrow”] among the flowers, and not be the cuckoo 
[reputed to shed tears of blood which grow up into azaleas] 
among the birds. 

To be born in times of peace in a district with hills and 
lakes when the magistrate is just and upright, and to live in a 
family of comfortable means, marry an understanding wife and 
have intelligent sons — this is what I call a perfect life. 

To have hills and valleys in one’s breast enables one to live 
in a city as in a mountain wood, and to be devoted to clouds 
transforms the Southern Continent into a fairy isle. 

To sit alone on a quiet night — to invite the moon and tell 
her one’s sorrow — to keep alone on a good night — and to call 
the insects and tell them one’s regrets. 

One living in a city should regard paintings as his landscape 
miniature sceneries in a pot as his garden, and books as his 

To ask a famous scholar to teach one’s children, to go into 
a famous mountain and learn the art of writing examination 
essays, and to ask a famous writer to be his literary ghost — all 
these three things are utterly wrong. 

A monk need not abstain from wine, he needs only abstain 
from vulgarity; a red petticoat need not understand literature, 
she need only understand what is artistically interesting. 

If one is annoyed by the coming of tax-gatherers, he should 
pay the land taxes early; if one enjoys talking Buddhism with 
monks, he cannot help making contributions to temples from 
time to time. 

It is easy to forget everything except this one thought of 
fame; it is easy to grow indifferent to everything except three 
cups of wine. 

Wine can take the place of tea, but tea cannot take the 
place of wine; poems can take the place of prose, but prose 
cannot take the place of poems; Yuan dramatic poems can 
take the place of Sung lyrics, but Sung lyrics cannot take the 
place of Yuan dramatic poems; the moon can take the place 
of lamps, but lamps cannot take the place of the moon; the pen 
can take the place of the mouth, but the mouth cannot take 


the place of the pen; a maid servant can take the place of a 
man servant, but a man servant cannot take the place of a maid. 

A little injustice in the breast can be drowned by wine; but 
a great injustice in the world can be drowned only by the 

A busy man’s private garden must be situated next to his 
house; while a man of leisure may have his private garden 
separated from his house at a distance. 

There are people who have the pleasures of a mountain 
recluse lying before them and don’t know how to enjoy them — 
fishermen, woodcutters, farmers, gardeners and monks; there 
are people who have the pleasures of gardens, pavilions and 
concubines before them and don’t know how to enjoy them — 
rich merchants and high officials. 

It is easy to stand a pain, but difficult to stand an itch; it 
is easy to bear the bitter taste, but difficult to bear the sour 
taste. 17 

It is true that the ink-stone of a man of leisure should be 
exquisite, but a busy man’s ink-stone should equally be exqui- 
site; it is true that a concubine for pleasure should be pretty, 
but a concubine for the continuation of the family line should 
also be pretty. 

The stork gives a man the romantic manner, the horse gives 
a man the heroic manner, the orchid gives a man the recluse’s 
manner, and the pine gives a man the grand manner of the 

I want one day to give a grand nudist ball, first to propitiate 
the spirits of the talented men of all ages, and secondly to 
propitiate the spirits of the beautiful women of all ages. When 
I have found a really high monk, 18 then I am going to give 
the ball and ask him to preside at it. 

It is against the will of God to eat delicate food hastily, 
to pass gorgeous views hurriedly, to express deep sentiments 
superficially, to pass a beautiful day steeped in food and drinks, 
and to enjoy your wealth steeped in luxuries. 

17 The great idea that it is more difficult to stand an inch than to stand pain is 
not original with this epigrammatist, but was found in the correspondence between 
Su Tungp’o and Huang Shanku, so far as I can remember. 

18 A “high monk,” \aoseng , as distinguished from the common, everyday monks, 
is a person who returns to the world, eats pork and perhaps dog-meat, and drinks 
in the company of prostitutes, as Jesus did. 

Chapter Eleven 


I. On Going About and Seeing Things 

TRAVEL used to be a pleasure, now it has become an industry. 
No doubt there are greater facilities for traveling today than a 
hundred years ago, and governments with their official travel 
bureaus have exploited the tourist trade, with the result that the 
modern man travels on the whole much more than his grand- 
father. Nevertheless travel seems to have become a lost art. In order 
to understand the art of travel, one should first of all beware of the 
different types of false travel, which is no travel at all. 

The first kind of false travel is travel to improve one’s mind. 
This matter of improving one’s mind has undoubtedly been over- 
done. I doubt very much whether one’s mind can be so easily 
improved. Anyway there is very little evidence of it at clubs and 
lectures. But if we are usually so serious as to be bent upon improv- 
ing our minds, we should at least during a vacation let the mind 
lie fallow, and give it a holiday. This false idea of travel has given 
rise to the institution of tourist guides, the most intolerable chatter- 
ing kind of interfering busybodies that I can imagine. One cannot 
pass a square or a bronze statue without his attention being called 
to the fact that So-and-So was born on April 23, 1792, and died on 
December 2, 1852. I have seen convent sisters escorting school chil- 
dren to a cemetery, and as the group stopped before a tombstone, 
reading to them from a book the dates of the deceased, the age 
at which he married, the name and surname of his wife, and such 
learned nonsense, which I am sure spoiled the pleasure of the 
entire trip for the children. The grown-ups themselves are turned 
into a group of school children being vociferously lectured to by 
the guide, and in the case of travelers of the more studious type, 
also taking notes very assiduously like good school children. Chi- 
nese tourists suffer like American tourists at Radio City, with 
the difference that Chinese guides are not professional, but are 



fruit-sellers, donkey drivers and peasant boys, whose information 
is less correct, if their personalities are more lively. Visiting Huch’iu 
Hill at Soochow one day, I came back with a terrible confusion of 
historical dates and sequence, for the awe-inspiring bridge suspended 
forty feet over the Sword Pond, with two round holes in the stone 
slabs of the bridge through which a sword had flown up as a 
dragon, became, according to my orange-selling boy, the place 
where the ancient beauty Hsishih attended to her morning toilet! 
(Hsishih’s “dressing table” was actually about ten miles away from 
the place.) All he wanted was to sell me some oranges. But then I 
had a chance of seeing how folklore was changed and modified and 
“metamorphosed .’ ’ 

The second kind of false travel is travel for conversation, in order 
that one may talk about it afterwards. I have seen visitors at Hup’ao 
of Hangchow, a place famous for its tea and spring water, having 
their picture taken in the act of lifting tea cups to their lips. To be 
sure, it is a highly poetic sentiment to show friends a picture of 
themselves drinking tea at Hup’ao. The danger is that one spends 
less thought on the actual taste of the tea than on the photograph 
itself. This sort of thing can become an obsession, especially with 
travelers provided with cameras, as we so often see on sight-seeing 
buses in Paris and London. The tourists are so busy with their 
cameras that they have no time to look at the places themselves. Of 
course they have the privilege of looking at them in the pictures 
afterwards when they go home, but it is obvious that pictures of 
Trafalgar Square or the Champs Elysees can be bought in New 
York or in Peiping. As these historical places become places to be 
talked about afterwards instead of places to be looked at, it is natural 
that the more places one visits, the richer the memory will be, and 
the more places there will be to talk about. This urge for learning 
and scholarship therefore impels the tourist to cover as many points 
as possible in a day. He has in his hand a program of places to visit, 
and as he comes to a place, he checks it off with a pencil on the 
program. I suspect such travelers are trying to be efficient even on 
their holiday. 


33 1 

This sort of foolish travel necessarily produces the third type of 
false travelers, who travel by schedule, knowing beforehand exactly 
how many hours they are going to spend in Vienna or Budapest. 
Before such a traveler departs, he makes a perfect schedule for him- 
self and religiously adheres to it. Bound by the clock and run by 
the calendar as he is at home, he is still bound by the clock and 
run by the calendar while abroad. 

In place of these false types of travel, I propose that the true 
motives of travel are, or should be, otherwise. In the first place, 
the true motive of travel should be travel to become lost and un- 
known. More poetically, we may describe it as travel to forget. 
Everyone is quite respectable in his home town, nc matter what 
the higher social circles think of him. He is tied by a set 'of con- 
ventions, rules, habits and duties. A banker finds it difficult to be 
treated just as an ordinary human being at home and to forget that 
he is a banker, and it seems to me, the real excuse for travel is 
that he shall be able to find himself in a community in which he 
is just an ordinary human being. Letters of introduction are all very 
well for people on business trips, but business trips are by definition 
outside the category of pure travel. A man stands a poorer chance 
of discovering himself as a human being if he brings along with him 
letters of introduction, and of finding out exactly how God made 
him as a human being, apart from the artificial accidents of social 
standing. Against the comforts of being well-received by friends in 
a foreign country and guided efficiently through the social strata of 
one’s own class, there is the greater excitement of a boy scout in a 
forest, left to his own devices. He has the chance to prove for him- 
self that he can order a fried chicken with the language of fingers 
alone, or find his way about town by communicating with a Tokyo 
policeman. At least, such a traveler can come home with a less 
tenderfootish dependence upon his chauffeur and butler. 

A true traveler is always a vagabond, with the joys, temptations 
and sense of adventure of the vagabond. Either travel is “vagabond- 
ing” or it is no travel at all. The essence of travel is to have no 
duties, no fixed hours, no mail, no inquisitive neighbors, no re- 


ceiving delegations, and no destination. A good traveler is one who 
does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveler does 
not know where he came from. He does not even know his own 
name and surname. This point has been emphasized by T’u Lung 
in his idealized sketch of the Travels of Mingliaotse — which I have 
translated in the next section. Probably he hasn’t got a single friend 
in a strange land, but as a Chinese nun expressed it, “Not to care 
for anybody in particular is to care for mankind in general.” Hav- 
ing no particular friend is having everybody as one’s friend. Lov- 
ing mankind in general, he mixes with them and goes about 
observing the charms of people and their customs. This kind of 
benefit is entirely missed by those travelers on the sight-seeing 
buses, who stay in the hotel, converse with their fellow passengers 
from the home country, and in the case of many American travelers 
in Paris, make a point of eating at the favorite rendezvous of 
American tourists, where they can be sure of seeing all their fellow 
passengers who came over on the same ship all over again, and can 
eat American doughnuts which taste exactly as they taste at home. 
English travelers in Shanghai make sure that they put up at an 
English hotel where they can have their bacon and eggs and toast 
with marmalade at breakfast, and hang about the cocktail lounge 
and fight shy of any inducement to get them to take a rickshaw 
ride. They are terribly hygienic, to be sure, but why go to Shanghai 
at all? Such travelers never allow themselves the time and leisure 
for entering into the spirit of the people and thus forfeit one of the 
greatest benefits of traveling. 

The spirit of vagabondage makes it possible for people taking 
a vacation to get closer to Nature. Travelers of this kind will there- 
fore insist on going to the summer resorts where there are the 
fewest people and one can have some sort of real solitude and com- 
munion with Nature. Travelers of this sort, therefore, do not in 
their preparation for journeys go into a department store and take 
a lot of time to select a pink or a blue bathing suit. Lipstick is still 
allowable because a vacationist, being a follower of Jean Jacques 
Rousseau, wants to be natural, and no lady can be quite natural 



without a good lipstick. But that is due to the fact that one goes to 
the summer resorts and beaches where everybody goes, and the 
entire benefit of a closer association with Nature is lost or forgotten. 
One goes to a famous spring and says to himself, “Now I am en- 
tirely by myself,” but after supper at the hotel, he takes up a paper 
in the lounge and discovers that Mrs. B — came up to the place 
on Monday. Next morning on his “solitary” walk, he encounters 
the entire family of the Dudleys, who arrived by train the night 
before. On Thursday night he finds out to his great delight that 
Mrs. S — and her husband are also having a vacation in this won- 
derful secluded valley. Mrs. S — then invites the Dudleys to tea, and 
the Dudleys invite Mr. and Mrs. S — to a bridge party, and you 
can hear Mrs. S — exclaim, “Isn’t it wonderful? It is just like being 
in New York, isn’t it?” 

I may suggest that there is a different kind of travel, travel to 
see nothing and to see nobody, but the squirrels and muskrats and 
woodchucks and clouds and trees. A friend of mine, an American 
lady, described for me how she went with some Chinese friends to 
a hill in the neighborhood of Hangchow, in order to see nothing. 
It was a misty day in the morning, and as they went up, the mist 
became heavier and heavier. One could hear the soft beat of drops 
of moisture on the leaves of grass. There was nothing to be seen 
but fog. The American lady was discouraged. “But you must come 
along; there’s a wonderful sight on top,” insisted her Chinese 
friends. She went up with them and after a while saw an ugly rock 
in the distance enveloped by the clouds, which had been heralded 
as a great sight. “What is there?” she asked. “That is the Inverted 
Lotus,” her friends replied. Somewhat mortified, she was ready to 
go down. “But there is a still more wonderful sight on top,” they 
said. Her dress was already half damp with the moisture, but she 
had given up the fight already and went on with them. Finally they 
reached the summit. All about them was an expanse of mists and 
fogs, with the outline of distant hills barely visible on the horizon. 
“But there is nothing to see here,” my American friend protested. 



“That is exactly the point.We come up to see nothing,” her Chinese 
friends replied. 

There is all the difference between seeing things and seeing 
nothing. Many travelers who see things really see nothing, and 
many who see nothing see a great deal. I am always amused at hear- 
ing of an author going to a foreign country to “get material for his 
new book,” as if he had exhausted all there was to see in humanity 
in his own town or country and as if the theme could ever be ex- 
hausted. “Thrums” must be unromantic and the Island of Guernsey 
too dull to build a great novel upon! We come therefore to the phi- 
losophy of travel as consisting of the capacity to see things, which 
abolishes the distinction between travel to a distant country and 
going about the fields of an afternoon. 

The two become the same thing, as Chin Shengt’an insisted. The 
most necessary outfit a traveler has to carry along with him is “a 
special talent in his breast and a special vision below his eye- 
brows,” as the Chinese dramatic critic expressed it in his famous 
running comment on the drama Western Chamber. The point is 
whether one has got the heart to feel and the eyes to see. If he 
hasn’t, his visits to the mountains are a pure waste of time and 
money; on the other hand, if he has got “a special talent in his 
breast and a special vision below his eyebrows,” he can get the 
greatest joy of travel even without going to the mountains, by stay- 
ing at home and watching and going about the field to watch a 
sailing cloud, or a dog, or a hedge, or a lonely tree. I translate be- 
low Chin’s dissertation on the true art of travel: 

I have read the travel sketches of people and realize that very 
few people understand the art of travelling. Surely the man who 
knows how to travel will not be frightened by a long journey 
to see all the sights of the land and sea and explore all their 
grandeur and mystery. But a certain talent in his breast and a 
certain vision below his eyebrows tells him that it is not neces- 
sary to go to all the famous beauty spots of land and sea in 
order to explore nature’s wonder and mystery. One day he goes 
to a stone cave after using up a great deal of the energy of 
his legs, his eyes and his mind, and when he has done that, the 



next day he goes again to another blessed spot and uses up some 
more of the energy of his legs, his eyes and his mind. People 
who do not understand him will say, “What a wonderful time 
you have been having, visiting places these days! Just after 
seeing one stone cave, you have gone ahead to visit another 
blessed spot.” They have entirely missed the point. For there is 
a distance between the two places he visited, perhaps twenty or 
thirty It, or perhaps, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two It, 
or perhaps even one li or just half a It. With the special talent 
in his breast and the special vision beneath his pair of eyebrows, 
has he not looked at that little distance of a li or half a li in the 
same way he looked at the stone cave and the blessed spot? 

It is true that there is something which terrifies the eye and 
surprises the soul to find that Mother Nature with her great 
skill and wisdom and energy has suddenly produced a thing 
like a stone cave or a blessed spot. But I have often stared 
casually at litde things of this universe, a bird, a fish, a flower, 
or a small plant, and even at a bird’s feather, a fish’s scale, a 
flower petal and a blade of grass, and realized how Mother 
Nature has also created it with all her great skill and wisdom 
and energy. As it is said that the lion uses the same energy to 
attack an elephant as to attack a wild rabbit, so does Mother 
Nature truly do the same thing. She uses all her energy in pro- 
ducing a stone cave or a blessed spot, but she also uses all her 
energy in producing a bird, a fish, a flower, a blade of grass, or 
even a feather, a scale, a petal, a leaf. Therefore, it is not alone 
the stone cave or the blessed spot that terrifies the eye and sur- 
prises the soul in this world. 

Furthermore, have we ever thought how the stone cave and 
the blessed spot were produced? Chuangtse has wisely said, 
“To comprehend the different organs of the horse is not to 
comprehend the horse itself. What we call the horse exists be- 
fore its different organs.” To take another analogy, we see for- 
ests growing around the great lakes and timber and rocks 
spread all over the great mountains. It gives the traveler 
joy to know that the great forests and timber and rocks are 
assembled together to form the great lakes and great moun- 
tains. But the towering peaks are formed by little rocks and 
the falling cataracts are formed and nourished by little springs 
of water. If we examine them one by one, we see that the 
stones are no bigger than the palm of one’s hand, and the 


springs are no bigger than little rivulets. Laotse has said: 
“Thirty spokes are grouped around the hub of a wheel, and 
when they lose their own individuality, we have a function- 
ing cart. We knead clay into a vessel and when the clay loses 
its own existence, we have a usable utensil. We make a hole 
in the wall to make windows and doors, and when the win- 
dows and doors lose their own existence, 1 we have a house to 
live in.” And so when we view a stone cave or a blessed spot 
and see the vertically uprising peaks, horizontally stretching 
mountain passes, those that go up and form a precipice, those 
that go down and form a river, those that are level and form a 
precipice, those that go down and form a river, those that are 
level and form a plateau, those that are inclined and form a 
hillside, those that stretch across and become bridges, and 
those that come together and become ravines, we realize that 
however incomparably manifold they are in their greatness 
and mystery, this mystery and grandeur arises when the parts 
lose their individual existence. For when they lose their own 
existence, there are no passes, no precipices, no rivers and no 
plateaus, hillsides, bridges and ravines. But it is exactly in their 
non-existence that the special talent in our breast and the 
special vision below our eyebrows wander and float at ease. 
And since this special talent in our breast and this special 
vision below our eyebrows can wander and float at ease only 
when these things are non-existent, why then must we insist 
on going to the stone cave and to the blessed spot? 

If, therefore with the special talent in my breast and the 
special vision below my eyebrows, I can still wander and float 
about at ease only when these things lose their individual ex- 
istence, isn’t it then unnecessary that I visit the stone cave and 
the blessed spot? For as I have just said, in the distance of 
twenty or thirty li, or even one or half li, are there not also 
everywhere things that lose their existence? A crooked little 
bridge — a shaggy lonely tree — a glimpse of water — a village — 
a hedge — a dog — how do I know that the mystery and the 
grandeur of the stone cave and the blessed spot where I may 
wander and float about at ease are not even here? . . . 

Besides, it is not necessary that we have a special talent in 
our breast and a special vision below our eyebrows: should one 
require a special talent in order to float about and require a 

*By being blanks in space. 



special vision in order to wander at ease, we might not find 
a single person in the world who understands the art of travel- 
ing. According to Shengt’an [the writer himself], there are 
no special talents and no special visions: to be willing to float 
about is already to have the special talent, and to be able to 
wander about at ease is already to have a special vision. The 
criteria of Old Mi [Mi Fei] for judging rocks are hsiou, tsou, 
t’ou and sou [delicacy, undulation, clarity and slenderness]. 
Now a little patch of water, a village, a bridge, a tree, a hedge 
or a dog at the distance of one li or half a li has each its 
great delicacy, great undulation, great clarity and great 
slenderness. If we fail to see this, it is because we do not 
understand how to look at them as Old Mi looked at the 
rocks. If we only see their delicacy, their undulation, their 
clarity and their slenderness, we cannot help but wander and 
float about at ease among them. What is there in the grandeur 
and mystery of peaks and mountain passes and precipices and 
rivers and the plateaux, the slopes, the bridges and the ravines 
in the stone cave and the blessed spot outside their being deli- 
cate, undulated, clear and slender? Those who insist on visit- 
ing the stone caves and the blessed spots therefore have left 
much that they have not visited; in fact, they have not visited 
any place at all. For those who fail to see the mystery and 
grandeur of a single hedge or a dog have seen only what is 
not grand and what is not mysterious in the stone caves and 
the blessed spots. 

Toushan [Chin’s friend] said, “The one who understands 
best the art of travel in all history is Confucius, and the second, 
Wang Hsichih [acknowledged master of Chinese calligra- 
phy].” On being asked to explain, Toushan said, “I know this 
of Confucius from the two sentences that for him ‘rice could 
not be white enough, and mincemeat could not be chopped 
fine enough,’ and I know this of Wang from seeing examples 
of his calligraphy. There are things in it which his son Hsien- 
chih could not even understand.” “What you have just said 
is devastating to the entire mankind,” said I. Toushan once 
told me, “When Wang FIsichih was at home, he often counted 
the pistils of every flower on every branch in his yard, and he 
would be thus occupied the whole day without saying a word, 
while his students stood by with towels at his side.” “Where 
did you find the authority for this statement?” asked Sheng- 


t’an. “I found it in my own heart,” replied Toushan. Such a 
marvelous person is Toushan. Alas, that the world has not dis- 
covered Toushan and admired his romantic imagination! 

II. “The Travels of Mingliaotse” 1 
a. The Reason for the Flight 

Mingliaotse was once an official, and he was tired of the ways 
of the world, of having to say things against his heart and to per- 
form ceremonies against good form. What is “to say things against 
one’s heart?” A host and his visitor make a low bow to each other, 
and after a few casual remarks about the weather, dare not make 
another comment. People we have met for the first time shake 
hands with us and insist they are our bosom friends, but after 
they have parted from us, we are totally indifferent to each other. 
When we praise a person, we compare him to the saint Poyi, and 
as soon as he has turned away, we talk behind his back and com- 
pare him to the thief Cheh. And when we are sitting at ease 
enjoying a conversation, we try to preserve a curt dignity, although 
we have so much we should like to say to each other; and we 
gabble about noble ideals, while we have immoral conduct. Being 
afraid that to unbosom our heart would betray the truth and to 
tell the truth would hurt, we lay these thoughts aside and let the 
conversation drift aimlessly on trivial topics. Sometimes we even 
play the actor and sigh or shout to cover up our thoughts, so that 
our ears, our eyes, our mouth and our nose are no more our own, 
and our anger, our joy, our laughter and our condemnations are 
no longer genuine. Such is the established convention of society, 
and there is no way of rectifying it. And what is “to perform 

^•This is a translation from a Chinese sketch, entitled The Travels of Mingliaotse , 
which draws a vivid picture of the glorified, cultured vagabond so much idealized by 
Chinese scholars, and sets forth a happy, carefree philosophy of living, characterized 
by love of truth, freedom and vagabondage. It was written by Tu Lung ( alias T’u 
Ch’ihshui), a writer who lived toward the end of the sixteenth century and who 
together with Hsu Wench’ang, Yuan Chunglang, Li Chowu and others living at the 
period, have never been given their due by the orthodox Chinese critics. 



ceremonies against good form?” In dealings with our fellowmen, 
no matter of what rank, we bow and kowtow the whole day, al- 
though they are our old friends. We dissociate ourselves without 
reason from some, as if they were our mortal enemies, and equally 
without reason try to get close to others, although they have no 
real affinity to us. Hardly has a nobleman opened his mouth when 
we answer, “Yes, sir!” with a roar, and yet he need only raise an 
arm, and our heads may be chopped off. We see two people call- 
ing on each other, and although they hate to see each other’s faces, 
they spend their days busily dismounting from their horses and 
leaving their cards. Now calling on a friend to inquire after his 
welfare should not be merely an empty form. Did the ancient 
kings who established these ceremonies mean it to be this way? 
We put on our gowns and girdles, feeling like caged monkeys, so 
that even when a louse bites our body and our skin itches, we can- 
not scratch it. And when we are walking at leisure in the streets, 
we are afraid of disobeying the law. Immediately our eyes look 
at our nose and we dare not look beyond a short distance, and if 
we look beyond a short distance, other people will look at us and 
try to detect what we are doing. When we want to ease ourselves 
and the feeling is intense, we hardly dare to stop without some ex- 
cuse. The higher officials are ever mindful of the sword in front 
and other people’s criticism behind. The cold and hot seasons 
disturb their bodies, and the desire of possession and the fear of 
loss trouble their hearts. Thus they suffer greater loss than comes 
from the mere fear of being incorrect. Even the noblest and most 
chivalrous spirits, who have a sense of wise disenchantment and 
are pleased with their own being, fall into this trap once they 
have become officials. So, wishing to emancipate his heart and liber- 
ate his will, Mingliaotse sets forth to travel in the Country of the 

Some one may say: “I have heard that the follower of Tao lives 
in quiet and does not feel lonely, and lives in a crowd and does 
not feel the noise. He lives in the world and yet is out of it, is with- 
out bondage and without need for emancipation, and soon a 



willow tree grows from his left armpit and a bird makes its nest 
on the top of his head. This is the height of the culture of quiet- 
ism and emancipation. To be a servant in the kitchen, or to pick 
up the waste on the ground, is one of the lowest of professions, and 
yet the saint is not disturbed by it. Are you not making your spirit 
the servant of your body, when you are afraid of the restrictions 
of the official life, and desire to travel to unusual places?” 

And Mingliaotse replies: “He who has attained the Tao can go 
into water without becoming wet, jump into fire without being 
burned, walk upon reality as if it were a void and travel on a void 
as if it were reality. He can be at home wherever he is and be alone 
in whatever surroundings. That is natural with him. But I am 
not one who has attained the Tao, I am merely a lover of Tao. 
One who has attained the Tao is master of himself, and the uni- 
verse is dissolved for him. Throw him in the company of the noisy 
and the dirty, and he will be like a lotus flower growing from 
muddy water, touched by it, yet unstained. Therefore he does 
not have to choose where to go. I am yet unqualified for this, for 
I am like a willow tree following the wind — when the wind is 
quiet, then I am quiet, and when the wind moves, I move, too. 
I am like sand in the water — which is clean or muddy as the water 
is. I have often achieved purity and quiet for a whole day and 
then lost it in a moment, and have sometimes achieved purity 
and quiet for a year and then lost it in a day. It has not been pos- 
sible for me to let everything alone and not be disturbed by 
material surroundings. If an emperor could follow the Tao, why 
did Ch’ao Fu and Hsu Yu have to go to the Chi Hill and the Ying 
River? If a prince could follow the Tao, why did Sakyamuni have 
to go to the Himalayas? If a duke could follow the Tao, why did 
Chang Liang have to ask for sick leave? And if a minor official 
could follow the Tao, why did T’ao Yiianming have to resign 
from his office? I am going to emancipate my heart and release my 
spirit and travel in the Country of the Nonchalant.” 

“Let me hear about your travels,” the friend says, and Ming- 
liaotse replies: 



“One who travels does so in order to open his ears and eyes 
and relax his spirit. He explores the Nine States 2 and travels over 
the Eight Barbarian Countries, in the hope that he may gather the 
Divine Essence and meet great Taoists, and that he may eat of the 
plant of eternal life and find the marrow of rocks. 3 Riding upon 
the wind and sailing upon ether, he goes coolly whithersoever the 
wind may carry him. After these wanderings, he comes back, shuts 
himself up and sits looking at the blank wall, and in this way ends 
his life. I am not one who has attained the Tao. I would like to 
house my spirit within my body, to nourish my virtue by mild- 
ness, and to travel in ether by becoming a void. But I cannot 
do it yet. I tried to house my spirit within my body, but suddenly 
it disappeared outside; I tried to nourish my virtue by mildness, 
but suddenly it shifted to intensity of feeling; and I tried to wander 
in ether by keeping in the void, but suddenly there sprang up in 
me a desire. And so, being unable to find peace within myself, I 
made use of the external surroundings to calm my spirit, and be- 
ing unable to find delight within my heart, I borrowed a landscape 
to please it. Therefore strange were my travels. 

b. The Way of Traveling 

“I go forth with a friend who loves the mountain haze and each 
of us carries a gourd and wears a cassock, taking with us a hun- 
dred cash. We do not want more, but try always to keep it at a 
hundred to meet emergencies. And we two go begging through 
cities and through hamlets, at vermilion gates and at white man- 
sions, before Taoist temples and monks’ huts. We are careful of 
what we beg for, asking for rice and not for wine, and for vegetables 
and not for meat. The tone of our begging is humble, but not 
tragic. If people give, we then leave them, and if people don’t 
give, we also leave them; the whole object being merely to fore- 
stall hunger. If some people are rude, we take it with a bow. 

2 Ancient nomenclature for parts of North and Central China. 

8 Stalactites and stalagmites. 


Sometimes when there is no place at which to beg and we cannot 
do otherwise, we spend one or two from the hundred cash we 
carry along with us, and make it up whenever possible. But we 
do not spend any cash unless we are actually forced to it. 

“We travel without a destination and stop over wherever we 
find ourselves, and we go very slowly, perhaps ten li a day, per- 
haps twenty, or perhaps thirty, forty or fifty. We do not try to do 
too much, lest we feel tired. And when we come to mountains 
and streams, and are enchanted with the springs and white rocks 
and water fowls and mountain birds, we choose a spot on a river 
islet and sit on a rock, looking at the distance. And when we meet 
woodcutters or fishermen or villagers or rustic old men, we do not 
ask for their names and surnames, nor give ours, nor talk about 
the weather, but chat briefly on the charms of the country life. 
After a while we part company with them without regret. 

“In times of great cold or great heat, we have to seek shelter, 
lest we be affected by the weather. On the road, we stand aside and 
let other people pass, and at a ferry, we wait to let other people 
get into the boat first. But if there is a storm we do not try to cross 
the water, or if a storm comes up when we are already halfway 
across, we calm our spirit, and leaving it to fate with an under- 
standing of life, we say, ‘If we should be drowned while crossing, 
it is Heaven’s will. Can we escape by worrying over it?’ If we 
cannot escape, there our journey ends. If fortunately we escape, 
then we go on as before. If we meet some rough young fellow on 
the way or accidentally bump into him, and if the young man is 
rude, we politely apologize to him. If after the apology we still 
cannot escape a fight, then there our journey ends. But if we es- 
cape it, then we go on as before. If one of us falls ill, we stop to 
attend to the illness, and the other tries to beg a little for some 
medicine, but he himself takes it calmly. He looks within himself 
and is not afraid of death. And so a severe illness is changed into 
a light illness, and a light illness is immediately cured. If it is 
willed that our days are numbered, then there our journey ends. 
But if we escape it, then we go on as before. It is natural that 



during our wanderings, we might arouse the suspicion of de- 
tectives or guards and might be arrested as spies. We then try to 
escape either by our cunning or by our sincerity. If we cannot 
escape, then there our journey ends. But if we escape, then we go on 
as before. Of course we stop over for the night at a mat-shed hut 
or a stone lodge, but if it is impossible to find such a place, we stop 
for the night lying outside a temple gate, or beneath a rock cave, 
or outside people’s house walls or beneath tall trees. Perhaps the 
mountain spirits and tigers or wolves may be looking upon us, 
and what are we to do? The mountain spirits can do us no harm, 
but we are unable to defend ourselves against the tigers or wolves. 
But haven’t we a fate controlled up in heaven? We therefore 
leave it to the laws of the universe, and we do not even change 
the color of our face. If we are eaten up, that is our fate, and there 
our journey ends. But if we escape it, then we go on as be- 
fore. . . . 

c. At Austere Heights 

“As for my destinations, I visit chiefly the Five Sacred Moun- 
tains and the Four Sacred Waters and generally the sacred places 
on mountain tops, and secondarily include also the famous moun- 
tains and rivers of the Nine States. But I limit myself to only those 
parts within the jurisdiction of the Nine States and where human 
beings have set foot. As for those regions lying outside the Ce- 
lestial Empire, like the Himalayas and the Ten Small Islands and 
Three Big Islands of the China Sea, I do not think I should be 
able to go there, not being provided with a pair of wings. I expect 
also to meet only traveling scholars of the lakes and rivers or 
retired men of the mountains; as for the various immortals, I do 
not think I shall be able to come across them, not being provided 
with an immortal body myself. 

“When I go up to the Five Sacred Mountains, there I stand 
high above the celestial winds and look beyond the Four Seas, and 
the myriad mountain peaks appear like little snails, the myriad 
rivers seem like winding girdles, and the myriad trees appear like 



kale. The Milky Way seems to graze by my collar, white clouds 
pass through my sleeves, the eagles of the air seem within my arm’s 
reach, and the sun and the moon brush, my temples and pass by. 
And there I have to speak in a low voice, not only for fear I may 
frighten away the spirit of the mountain, but also lest it 
be overheard by God on His throne. Above us there is the pure 
firmament, without a single speck of dust in that vast expanse 
of space, while below us rain and thunder and stormy darkness 
take place without our knowledge, and the rumbling of the thun- 
der is heard only as the gurgling of a baby. At this moment, my 
eyesight is dazzled by the light, and my spirit seems to fly out of 
the limitations of space, and I feel as if I were riding upon the 
far-journeying winds, but do not know where to go. Or when 
the western sun is about to hide itself and the eastern moon is 
bursting out from below the horizon, there the fight of the clouds 
shines forth in all directions and the purple and the blue scintil- 
late in the sky and the distant and the near-by peaks change from a 
deeper into a fighter hue in a short moment. Or again in the 
middle of the night, I hear the sound of the temple bells and the 
roar of a tiger, followed by a gust of rustling wind, and the door 
of the main temple hall being open, I slip on my gown and get 
up, and lo! there the Spirit of the Rabbit 4 is reclining, and some 
remains of the last snowfall still cover up the upper slopes, the 
fight of the night lies like a mass of undefined white, and the dis- 
tant mountains present a hardly visible outline. At such a moment, 
I feel my body steeped in the cool air and all desires of the flesh 
have melted away. Or perhaps I see the God of the Sacred Moun- 
tain sitting in state, giving audience to the inferior spirits. There is 
a profusion of banners and canopies, and the air is filled with the 
music of the flute and the bells, and the palace roofs are clothed 
in a mantle of clouds and scarfs of haze, seeming to have and yet 
not to have a visible outline, and giving the illusion of now being 
so near and now being so far away. Ah, thrice happy is it to hear 
4 The moon. 



the music of the gods, and why is it suddenly interrupted by a 
gust of cold wind? 

“Besides these Five Sacred Mountains, there are a number of 
other famous mountains, like Szeming, T’ient’ai, Chinhua, Kua- 
ts’ang, Chint’ing, T’ienmu, Wuyi, Lushan, Omei, Chungnan, 
Chungt’iao, Wut’ai, T’aiho, Lofu, Kweich’i, Maoshan, Chiuhua, 
and Linwu, and such sacred places without number, which have 
been called the dwellings of the fairies or the abodes of the spirits. 
I go forth in sandals, carrying a bamboo cane, and though I may 
not be able to visit them all, I wander about as far as my energy 
permits. I drink the water of the Gods’ Faeces, inquire after the 
name of the Fairy Mouse, chew the rice of sesame and drink the 
dew of pine trees. When I come to a steep peak or overhanging 
precipice which rises abruptly into the sky, never scaled by man, 
I tie myself to a rope and climb up to the top. Coming to a broken 
stone bridge, or an old gate suddenly discovered open, I walk into 
it without fear; or coming to a rocky cave so dark that one cannot 
see its bottom, with but a single ray of light coming in through a 
crevice in its roof, I light a torch and go in by myself without 
fear, in the hope of finding some highminded Taoists, or im- 
mortal plants, or perhaps the bodily remains of some Taoists who 
have gone up to heaven. 

“I visit also the famous rivers and lakes, like the Tungt’ing, the 
Yiinmeng, the Chiit’ang, the Wuhsia , 5 the Chiich’ii, the P’engli, 
the Yangtse, and the Ch’ient’ang. Such deep expanses of water 
are the abodes of fish, dragons, and the water spirits. When the 
air is calm and the water smooth like a mirror, we know that 
then the Divine Dragon is peacefully asleep, holding a pearl in its 
breast. When the lights of the water merge with the color of the 
sky under a clear moon, we know then it is the Princess of the 
Dragon King and the Mistress of the River coming out in a cano- 
pied procession, flute in hand and clad in their new scarfs of light 
gauze, treading in embroidered shoes upon the rippling waves. 
This procession continues for some time and then disappears. Ah, 

5 The Yangtse Gorges. 


how cool it is then! Or a furious wind lashes upon the water and 
gigantic waves rise, and we know then it is the spirit of Ch’ihyi 6 
in anger, assisted by T’ienwu. 7 Then the great earth churns about 
like a mill and our earthly abode shakes and rolls like a sifter, 
and we seem to see Old Dragon Chang breaking his way into 
heaven, carrying his nine sons in his arms. Ah, how magnificent it 
is then! Or if we go in for the gentle beauty of well-dressed women, 
there is no better place than the West Lake of Hangchow, where 
the willows line the banks and the peach flowers look at their 
own image in the water, and we know then it is the Imperial 
Consort Lihua opening her vanity box in the morning. When the 
water-caltrops are in bloom and the lotus flowers look fresh and 
gay on a bright morning and the place is filled with a subtle fra- 
grance, we know then that the beauties Yichu and Hoteh are 
coming out of their bath. When the sky is clear and the sun is 
shining and the things of the place have a bright charm, and 
people are leaning upon their balconies in the vermilion towers in 
the morning, or boating on the lake with painted oars in the 
evening, we know then it is the Queen Yang Kweifei in her 
smiling mood. When a mist and rain hang over the lake and 
the many hills are enveloped in gray, changing into the most un- 
expected colors, it is also a source of great delight, for we know 
then it is Hsishih, Queen of the Wu kingdom, knitting her eye- 

d. Bac\ to Humanity 

Then Mingliaotse walks leisurely past the Six Bridges of Hsi- 
ling and goes up to T’ienchu and Lingch’iao, where after visiting 
some ancient scholars, he comes out and looks for Wild Stork Ting 
in some stone cave amidst the clouds. Then there is Ch’aoyin (Poo- 
too) which is the monastic home of Mingliaotse, and where the 
temple in honor of the Goddess of Mercy is situated. Mingliaotse 

6 A mythical bird. 

7 The Spirit of the Sea, with eight heads, eight legs and eight tails. 


goes there to pick lotus flowers and look at the great sea. Ah, is this 
not a great delight! 

And so wandering farther and farther, happy of heart, Ming- 
liaotse proceeds leisurely, covering a distance of ten thousand It 
on foot. And when he is pleased with what he sees or hears, he 
stays at a place for ten days. 

[At a temple] he sits still with crossed legs to master the Three 
Precious Spirits. The five thousand words of Taotehching — is not 
the philosophy subtle and fine? The Golden Casket of Taoist 
books — is it already lost or still to be found? The Jade Boo\ of 
Fusang — shall he not ask his neighbors concerning its where- 
abouts? The Two Books of Yinfu — does their secret lie right be- 
fore his eyes? The Supreme Ruler guides his perceptive mind, and 
the Ancient Buddha directs his spiritual wisdom. And so trying 
to understand the law of the changing universe, he is not lonely 
during his contemplation. 

In the temple of Buddha, there is the gracious appearance of 
his golden body, irradiating a glorious halo. The candles have 
been lighted and the incense smoke fills the air with a light fra- 
grance, and there the Taoists or monks are seated in order on their 
straw cushions, drinking tea and eating fruit and perusing the 
classics. After a while, when they are tired, they control their 
respiration and enter the stage of quietude. After a long time, 
they get up, and see the moon shining from behind the wisterias, 
while the universe lies hushed in silence. An acolyte is kowtowing 
with his head against the ground, and a boy servant is taking a 
nap near the stove where the medicine of fairies is being stewed. 
At this moment how can an earthly thought enter our minds, even 
if it is there? 

When out in the open country, he sees low walls enclosing mud 
huts thatched with straw. A piercing wind is blowing through 
the door and a mild sun is shining upon the forests. The cattle and 
sheep are returning home to the hillside, and hungry birds are 
making a noisy sound in the fields on the plain. An old farmer in 
ragged clothes and disheveled hair is sunning himself beneath a 


small mulberry tree, and an old woman is holding an earthen 
vessel filled with water and serving a wheat meal. When the 
landscape and the mood of the moment are so sad, one feels too 
that it is as beautiful as a picture. If a Taoist on travel should re- 
gard such views as too ordinary, he might just as well not travel 
at all. 

On entering a big city, where crowds jostle and the traffic of 
carts and horses fills the streets, Mingliaotse goes along singing 
and observing the people — storekeepers, butchers, minstrel singers, 
fortune-tellers, people occupied in a dispute, jugglers, animal train- 
ers, gamblers and sportsmen. Mingliaotse looks at them all. And 
when the spirit moves him, he enters a wine shop and orders some 
strong wine with dried fish and green vegetables, and the two 
men drink across a table. Thus getting warmed up, they sing the 
ditty Gathering the Immortal Plant, and look about, supremely 
satisfied with themselves. The people of the street wonder at the 
sight of these two ragged souls carrying themselves with such an 
air of charm and happiness, and suspect that they are perhaps 
fairies incarnated. After a short while, they suddenly disappear 

In the great mansions behind tall gates, dukes and princes or 
officials of high ranks are having a wine feast. Food is being served 
on jade plates, and beauties are sitting around the table. An orches- 
tra is playing in the hall and the sound of song pierces the clouds. 
An old servant with a cane in hand is watching the door. Ming- 
liaotse goes right in to beg for food. With his bright, wide-open 
eyes and a dignified air, he shouts to the company, “Stop all this 
noise and listen to a Taoist singing the song of ‘Dew Drops on 

Dew drops on flowers, 

Oh, how gay! 

Fear not the cutting wind, 

But dread the coming day! 

Eastward flows the River, 

Westward the Milky Way. 



Farmers till the field where 
Once the Bronze Tower lay. 

Better to have got 
A day with this all-precious pot 
Than future names remembered not. 

Oh, make merry while ye may! 

Dew drops on flowers, 

Oh, how bright! 

So long they last, they shine 
Like pearls in morning light, 

Where grave mounds dot the wilds, 

And winds whine through the night; 

Foxes’ howls and screech-owls 
On poplars ghastly white. 

See where red leaves blow, 

Down on the Fragrant Gullet flow, 

And mosses over Ch’inien Palace grow. 

Oh, make merry while ye might! 

After Mingliaotse has finished his song, one of the guests seems 
to be angry and says: “Who is this Taoist to spoil our enjoyment 
in the midst of our wine feast? Give him a piece of sesame cake 
and send him away!” Mingliaotse receives the cake and leaves. 
Then another guest speaks to his attendant, saying, “Quick! Ask 
that Taoist to come back!” “But we were just enjoying our wine,” 
says the former, “and he came to spoil our pleasure. That was 
why I sent him away with a piece of sesame cake. It’s just fine. 
Why do you want him to come back?” “It seems to me,” replies 
the latter, “there’s something unusual about this Taoist, and I 
want to ask him to return to have a good look at him.” “Why, 
he is only a beggar!” replies the former. “What is unusual about 
him? All he wants is a cold dish of left-overs.” Then another guest 
joins in and says, “It doesn’t seem from the song he sang that he is 
just a beggar.” 

At this moment, a sing-song girl in red gauze rises up from her 
seat and says, “According to my humble opinion, this Taoist is a 
fallen fairy from heaven. His eyes and forehead are delicately 


formed and his voice is strong and clear. He is disguised as a beggar, 
but something in his behavior betrays his noble breeding. The song 
he sang is graceful and deep in meaning, more like the song of 
fairies in heaven than the song of men on earth. What beggar could 
have sung such a song! He is a fairy traveling among mortals in 
disguise. Please ask him to come back, for we must not lose him.” 

“What has all this to do with him?” says the last one. “All he 
wants is perhaps a drink of wine. You ask him to come back and 
we’ll find out that he is a common fellow after all.” 

The girl in red gauze is still unconvinced and remarks, “Well, all 
I can say is, we haven’t the luck to meet with immortals.” 

Then another girl in green gauze rises up from her seat and says, 
“Will the gentlemen make a bet with me? Ask the Taoist to return, 
and if he is an extraordinary person 8 then those who say he is 
extraordinary win the bet, and if we find that he is a common 
fellow, then those who say he is a common fellow win.” “Good!” 
shout the gentlemen together. They then send a servant to go after 
Mingliaotse, but he has completely disappeared, and the servant re- 
turns with the news. “I knew that he was no common fellow!” says 
the former. “Alas, we have just lost an immortal!” says the girl in 
red gauze. “Why, he just went out of the door and has completely 

Mingliaotse then proceeds with his cane and leisurely passes out 
of the outer city gate. He passes by a dozen big cities without enter- 
ing one of them, until he comes to a place where he sees a city wall 
nestling against a mountain range. There are fine, tall towers and 
spacious, magnificent temples, whose roofs overlap one another in 
irregular formations, overlooking a clear pond below. It is a beauti- 
ful spring day, birds are singing on splendid trees and all the flowers 
are in their full glory. The men and women of the city, clad in their 
new clothes and riding in carved carriages or sitting on embroidered 
saddles, have come out of the city to “pace the spring.” Some are 
drinking in the shade of tall trees, and some have spread a mat on 

8 “Extraordinary person” is the regular phrase for some saint or Taoist or fairy, 
gifted with magic powers. 



the fragrant grass, and others have climbed up to a high vermilion 
tower, or are rowing on “green sparrow” boats; again others are rid- 
ing shoulder to shoulder to visit the flowers, or are walking hand 
in hand and singing folk songs. Mingliaotse feels extremely happy 
and hangs about for a long time. 

By and by a scholar with a clean face and nice complexion 
appears, coming along gracefully in his long gown. Making a low 
bow to Mingliaotse, he says, “Do Taoists come out to pace the 
spring, too? I have a few friends having a picnic over there, be- 
neath the cherry trees in front of the little tower across the river. 
It is a jolly company and I shall be much pleased if you can join 
us. Can you come along?” 

Mingliaotse gladly follows the young man, and when he arrives, 
he sees six or seven scholars, all handsome and young. The first 
young man introduces him to the company with a smile. “My 
friends, this is just a spring party among ourselves. I just met this 
Taoist gentleman on the road and saw he was not at all vulgar, and 
I therefore propose that we share our cups with him. What do you 
think?” “Good!” they all reply. 

So then they all take their seats in order and Mingliaotse sits at 
the end of the table. When sufficient wine has been served and 
everybody is tipsy and happy, the conversation waxes more and 
more brilliant, and they pass witty remarks about the different people 
and the gentry. Some declaim poems celebrating the spring, some 
sing the song of gathering flowers, some discuss the policies of the 
court, and some tell of the secluded charm of hills and woods. There 
is then an exciting conversation going on, with each trying to outdo 
the others, while the Taoist merely occupies himself by chewing 
his rice. The first young man looks several times at Mingliaotse 
amidst his busy conversation, and says, “We must hear something 
from this Taoist teacher, too.” And Mingliaotse replies, “Why, I 
am just enjoying the many fine and wise things you gentlemen have 
been saying, and have not been able to understand them all. How 
can I contribute anything to your conversation?” 

After a while, the company rise up to take a walk in the rice 

35 2 


fields, some plucking flowers and others pulling willow branches on 
the way. The place is full of beauties, and everywhere one’s eyes 
turn, one sees beautiful peonies and miwu ? But Mingliaotse wanders 
alone into a hill path, and comes out again after a long while. “Why 
did you go alone?” the gentleman ask. “I was going with two 
oranges and a gallon of wine to listen to the orioles,” replies Ming- 
liaotse. “Why, this is a most extraordinary man, by the way he 
talks,” says one scholar, and Mingliaotse replies by a courteous re- 
mark concerning his unworthiness. 

So then the company sit down again, and one man says, “It won’t 
do to go home from such an outing without writing some poems,” 
and another expresses his approval. 

Soon one person has completed his poem first, which reads: 

The willows drunk with ’circling haze, 

And rain-bathed peach flowers brightly gleam. 

Fear not thy fragrant cup be empty; 

A tavern lies across the stream. 

Another finishes his poem, which reads: 

My kitchen shares the mountain green; 

My tower is sprinkled wet with spray. 

If ye drink not when spring is here, 

Soon comes the windy, wintry day. 

After three other persons have contributed their quatrains, Ming- 
liaotse is invited to make his contribution. He rises to his feet, and 
after some expressions of his diffidence and the friends’ insistence, 
he sings: 

I tread along the sandy bank, 

Where clouds are golden, water clear; 

The startled fairy hounds go barking — 

Into the peach grove 10 disappear. 

Amazed by this poem, the company rise from their seats and 
make a low bow to Mingliaotse. “Tut! Tut! To hear such celestial 

9 A short flowering plant. 

10 The “peach grove” stands in Chinese literature for a fairies’ retreat. 



words from a monk! We knew that you were an extraordinary 
person.” And they all come round to ask for his name and surname, 
but Mingliaotse only smiles without giving reply. As they still 
insist, Mingliaotse says, “What do you want to know my name for ? 
I am merely a rustic person wandering among clouds and waters, 
and we’ve met with a smile. You can just call me ‘The Rustic 
Fellow of Clouds and Waters.’ ” This intrigues the company still 
more, and they express their desire to invite him to go into the city 
with them. “I am merely a poor monk enjoying a vagabond’s travel, 
and all the world is my home,” replies Mingliaotse with a smile. 
“But since you are so kind, I will come along.” 

They then go back to the city together, and Mingliaotse stays at 
their homes by turn. During the days that follow, he finds himself 
now in a rich man’s hall, and now in a well-hidden small studio, 
now enjoying a literary wine dinner and now watching perform- 
ances of dance and song, and Mingliaotse goes to all the places to 
which he is invited. The people of the city hear of the Rustic Fel- 
low of Clouds and Waters, and the socially active people shower 
him with invitations, and he visits them all. When people give him 
drink, he drinks; when people discuss poetry and literature, he 
discusses poetry and literature with them; when people take him out 
for an excursion, he goes with them; but when they ask for his 
name and surname, he merely smiles without reply. In his dis- 
cussion of poetry and literature, he makes very apt remarks about 
the ancient and modern writers and gives a penetrating analysis of 
their styles and forms. Sometimes he discusses the political order 
of the ancient kings and makes passing comments on current affairs 
and enchants the people still more by his witty remarks. 

Especially well-versed is he in the teaching of Taoism regarding 
“nourishing the spirit.” Sometimes, when he is watching dancing 
or singing which borders on the bawdy and people make ribald 
jokes to find out his attitude toward these things, he seems to be 
enjoying himself, like the romantic scholars. But when it comes to 
extinguishing the candle and the host asks him to stay with some 
girl entertainer, and when the party becomes really rowdy, he sits 



upright with an austere appearance, and nobody can make anything 
of him. When he takes a nap during the night, he asks for a straw 
cushion from the host and sits with crossed legs on it, and merely 
dozes off when he is tired. For this reason, admiration and wonder 
grow about him. 

After more than a month’s stay, he takes leave suddenly one day, 
against the persistent entreaty of the people. His friends give him 
money and cloth for presents, and write poems of farewell to him. 
At the farewell party, the gentlemen all come to give him a send- 
off; sadly they hold his hands and some shed tears. Mingliaotse 
arrives at the outer city gate, and after having reserved a hundred 
cash for himself, he distributes the gentlemen’s presents to the poor 
and goes away. When his friends hear of this, they sigh and marvel 
still more, knowing not what to make of him. 

e. Philosophy of the Flight 

Mingliaotse then follows a mountain path, and finds himself in 
deep, rugged mountains. Thousands of old trees, with creepers 
growing on them, spread their deep shade so that one walking 
underneath cannot see the sky. There is not a trace of human habi- 
tation, and not even a woodcutter or a cowherd is in sight. He hears 
only the cries of birds and monkeys around him, and a gust of in- 
fernally cold wind makes him shiver. Mingliaotse proceeds with his 
friend for a long while, when they suddenly see an old man with 
a majestic forehead and a delicate face and green veins showing 
on his eyeballs. His hair falls down to the shoulders, and he is 
sitting on a rock, hugging his knees. Mingliaotse goes forward and 
makes a bow. The old man rises to his feet and looks at him steadliy 
for a long time, but does not say a word. Going down on his knees, 
Mingliaotse speaks to him, “Is Father an extraordinary person who 
has attained the Tao? How otherwise can I find the sound of foot- 
steps in this deep mountain solitude? Your disciple has always loved 
the Tao and in his middle age has not yet found it. I feel sad at 
the vanity of this life which rapidly burns out like a flash from a 



flint, or like oil in a pan. Will you please take pity on me and dis- 
perse my ignorance?” The old man pretends not to hear him. But 
after Mingliaotse insists upon his request, he merely teaches him a 
few words about being carefree and quiet and the idea of inaction, 
and after a little while, goes his way. Mingliaotse’s eyes follow him 
for a long while until he altogether disappears. How does one 
explain the existence of such an old man in this deep mountain 

Then wandering farther on, he chances to come upon an old 
friend of his. Sometimes when he thinks of those people with whom 
he had formed a friendship on the basis of love of prose and poetry, 
or of respect for each other’s character, or of business relations, or 
of personal intimacy and mutual understanding of one another’s 
hearts, or of a mutual confidence in one another’s future, he begins 
to desire to see them again. Then he goes straight to the home of 
his friend, without concealing his indentity. The friend bows to 
greet him, and seeing that Mingliaotse is clad in such a strange 
dress, is surprised and asks him some questions. “I have already re- 
tired from the world, and Chichen of T’ungming is my master,” 
explains Mingliaotse. “Are your sons and daughters all married?” 
the friend asks. “No, not yet,” replies Mingliaotse. “When they are 
all married, then I shall be free of all cares, like the clearing up of 
the water of the Yellow River. Tsep’ing 10 went away and never 
returned home, but I am still looking forward to returning to the 
hills of my homeland, in order to live in harmony with my original 
nature.” The host then gives him vegetarian food, and they begin 
to talk of the days twenty or thirty years ago, and surveying the 
past with a laugh, feel that everything has passed like a dream. 
The friend then bows his head and sighs, expressing his envy of the 
carefree life that Mingliaotse is leading. 

“Are you not indeed a carefree man!” his friend says. “Now 
wealth and power and the glories of this world are things in which 
people easily get drowned. I sometimes see an old man with white 
hair on his head marching slowly with a stoop in an official pro- 

10 An ancient Taoist who went up to heaven. 


cession, still clinging to these things and unwilling to let them go. 
If one day he quits office, he looks about with knitted eyebrows. 
Inquiring if the carriage is ready, he is still slow to depart, and 
passing out of the city gate of the capital, he still looks back. When 
back at his farm, he still disdains to occupy himself with planting 
rice and hemp and beans, and morning and night he will be ask- 
ing for news from the capital. Or he will still be writing letters to 
his friends at the court, and such thoughts flit back and forth in 
his breast ceaselessly until he draws his last breath. Sometimes an 
Imperial order for his recall to office arrives at the moment when he 
is breathing his last, and sometimes the official messenger arrives 
with the news just a few hours after he closes his eyes. Isn’t this 
ridiculous? How have you trained yourself that you are able to 
emancipate yourself from such things in good time?” 

“I have looked at life in my leisure,” replies Mingliaotse. “It 
seems that I have come to an awakening through a sense of life’s 
tragedy. I have looked at the skies, and wondered how the sun 
and the moon and the stars and the Milky Way rush westward day 
and night like busy people. Today passes and never returns, and 
although tomorrow comes, it is no longer today. This year passes 
and never returns, and although there is next year, it is no longer 
this year. And so the days of Nature are steadily lengthened or un- 
rolled, while the days of my life are daily shortened, and outside 
the thirty-six thousand mornings, time does not belong to me. The 
years of Nature are steadily unrolled, while the years of my life be- 
come steadily shortened, and beyond a hundred, they do not be- 
long to me. Furthermore, the so-called ‘hundred’ and the so-called 
‘thirty-six thousand’ in life are not always as we wish them to be, 
and among the days and years, most are passed in bad weather and 
sorrow and worry and running about. How many moments are 
there when the day is beautiful and the company enjoyable, when 
the moon and the wind are good and our heart is at ease and our 
spirit happy, when there is music and song and wine and we can 
enjoy ourselves and while away the hours! 

“The sun and the moon pursue their courses, as fast as the bullet, 



and when their wheels are about to go behind the Western Preci- 
pices, the arms of the strongest man on earth cannot hold them and 
make them travel eastward, even the eloquence of Su Ch’in and 
Chang Yi cannot persuade them to travel eastward, even the wit and 
the strategy of Ch’ulitse and Yen Ying cannot change their minds 
and make them travel eastward, even the sincerity of Chingwei who 
knocked herself against the Rainbow and was transformed into a 
bird, trying to fill the sea of her regrets with pebbles, cannot touch 
their hearts and make them travel eastward. Writers throughout 
the ages who discussed this point have always held it as a matter of 
eternal regret. 

“And I have looked at the earth, where high banks have been 
leveled into valleys and deep valleys have been heaved up into 
mountains, and the water of the rivers and lakes flows night and 
day eternally eastward into the sea. Fang P’ing 11 has said, ‘Since I 
took over my duty, I have seen the sea three times changed into a 
mulberry field, and vice versa.' 

“Again I have looked at the living things of this world, how they 
are born and grow old and fall ill and die, being ground thus in the 
mill of yin and yang, like oil in a frying pan which, being heated by 
fire from below, dries up in a short while; or like a candle which 
flickers in the wind and soon goes out, its tears being dried up and 
its soot fallen to the table; or like a boat cut adrift on a big sea, 
washed forward by successive waves and floating it knows not 
whither. Besides, the seven desires of man continue to burn him 
up and the pleasures of the flesh pare him down; he is sometimes 
too much disappointed and sometimes too much elated, and usually 
too much worried. Without more than a hundred years at his dis- 
posal, he plans to live for a thousand years, and while sitting like 
oil on fire, his ambitions stretch beyond the universe. Why wonder, 
therefore, that his being quickly deteriorates when old age comes 
along and his vital energy is used up and his spirit wanders away 
from its abode? 

“I have seen princes and dukes and generals and premiers whose 

11 A Taoist fairy. 


crowded roofs form a skyline like the clouds. When the dinner bell 
sounds, a thousand people are seen eating together, and when their 
gates are opened in the morning, crowds of visitors rush in. Day 
and night they give feasts and their halls are full of painted women. 
When a monk passes by, they shout at him with a thundering voice 
and he dares not even to look at the house. But after twenty or 
thirty years, the monk passes by again, and he sees a stretch of 
wild grass and broken tiles covered by dew and frost, and a cold 
sun is shining upon the place and a moaning wind passes by, with 
not a roof left standing. V/hat was once the scene of song and dance 
and merrymaking is today the pasture ground of a few cowherd 
boys. Did they ever realize, when they were at the height of their 
prosperity and laughing and merrymaking, that this day would 
come? And why did the great glories of this world pass away in the 
twinkling of an eye? Was it alone, like the Garden of Chinku, 12 the 
Tower of T’ungt’ai, 13 the Hall of P’ihsiang 14 and the Pool of 
T’aiyi 15 that gradually became ruins after the passage of hundreds or 
thousands of years? On my leisure days, I have passed out of the city 
and gone up on hills, where I saw a stretch of grave mounds. Do 
these belong to Yen or Han or Chin or Wei? Or were these people 
princes and dukes, or were they pages and servants? Or were they 
heroes or were they fools? How can I know from this stretch of 
yellow soil? I thought how they, when they were living, clung to 
glory and wealth, vied with one another in their ambitions and 
struggled for fame, how they planned what they could never 
achieve and acquired what they could never use. Which one of 
them did not worry and plan and strive? One morning their eyes 
closed for the eternal sleep, and they left all their worries behind. 

“I have stopped over at the residences of officials and wondered 
how many had taken another’s place as the host of the house. I 
have looked at the records of the personnel at court and wondered 

12 Garden of the fabulously wealthy Shih Ts’ung. 

13 Tower of Ts’ao Ts’ao. 

14 Hall of the pampered Queen Feiven. 

15 Pool of Emperor Ilan Wuti. 



how many times old names had been struck off and new names put 
in. I have been at mountain passes and at ferries, and have gone up 
a high hill to look down upon the plain, and I have seen continuous 
processions of boats and carriages and wondered how many 
travelers they have carried away. And so I sighed in silence, and 
sometimes my tears dropped and my heart’s desires were turned 
cold like ashes.” 

“I have heard it said by Yentse,” replies his friend, “that Sangch’iu 
was happy over the fact that there was no death, and that the King 
Ching of Ch’i shed tears and was grieved on account of death, and 
wise people criticized him for not understanding life. Are you not 
also lacking in the wisdom of those who understand life, when you 
feel sad and even shed tears because of the swift passing of time 
and the instability of life?” 

“No,” replies Mingliaotse. “I have felt sad from the sense of the 
instability of life, and I have come to an awakening from this feel- 
ing of sadness. King Ching of Ch’i feared that his power and glory 
were temporary and wanted to enjoy them forever and exhaust the 
happiness of human life. On the contrary, I feel the instability of 
wealth and power and wish to keep them at a distance, in order 
to run my normal course of life. Our aims are different.” 

“Have you already attained the Tao, then?” 

“No, I have not attained the Tao. I am only one who loves it,” 
replies Mingliaotse. 

“Why do you wander about, if you love the Tao?” 

“Oh, no, do not confuse my wanderings with the Tao,” replies 
Mingliaotse. “I was merely tired of the restrictions of the official life 
and the bother of worldly affairs, and I am traveling merely to free 
myself from them. As for winding up the ‘great business of life,’ 16 
I shall have to wait until I return and shut myself up.” 

“Are you happy, going about with a gourd and a cassock and 
begging and singing for your living?” 

“I have heard from my teacher,” replies Mingliaotse, “that the 
art of attaining happiness consists in keeping your pleasures mild. 

16 Death. 


When people come to a feast where lambs and cows are killed and 
all the delicacies that come from land and sea are laid out on 
the table, they all enjoy them at first,, but when they come to 
the point of satiety, they begin to feel a sense of repulsion. Much 
better are meals of plain rice and green vegetables, which are mild 
and simple and good for one’s health and which will be found to 
have a lasting flavor, after one gets used to them. People also enjoy 
themselves at first in parties where there are beautiful women and 
boys, where some beat the drum and others play the sheng and a 
lot of things are going on in the hall. But after the mood is past, 
one gets, on the contrary, a sense of sadness. It is much better to 
light incense and open your book and sit quiedy and leisurely, 
maintaining a calm of spirit, and the charm deepens as you go 
along. Although I was at one time of my life an official, I had no 
property or wealth outside a few books. At first I traveled with 
these books, but fearing that they might be the cause of envy on 
the part of the water spirits, I threw them into the water. And now 
I haven’t got a thing outside this body. Does not then the charm of 
life remain for me long and lasting, when my burdens are gone, 
my surroundings are quiet, my body is free and my heart is 
leisurely? With a cassock and a gourd, I go wherever I like, stay 
wherever I choose and take whatever I get. Staying at a place, I do 
not inquire after its owner, and going away, I do not leave my 
name. I do not feel ill at ease when I am left in the cold, and do 
not become contaminated when I am in noisy company. There- 
fore, the purpose of my wanderings is also to learn the Tao.” 
Having heard this, his friend says with a happy smile, “Your 
words make me feel like having taken a dose of cooling medicine. 
The disturbing fever has left my body without my knowing it.” 
[Here follows a discussion on the identity of the Three Religions 
and the existence of God and Buddha and fairies and ghosts .] 
After a while a young man comes along and, pointing his finger 
at Mingliaotse, shouts, “Get away from here, you beggar! A monk 
ought to go away quietly when he receives his food. If you keep on 
babbling nonsense, I must regard you as a sorcerer and prosecute 



you at court.” The young man rolls up his sleeve as if to strike at 
Mingliaotse, but the latter merely smiles without making a reply. 
The quarrel is settled by some passer-by. 

Mingliaotse goes away singing his songs. At night he stops at an 
inn, and there is a very well-dressed woman peeping in at the door. 
Gradually she approaches and begins slyly to tease him. Ming- 
liaotse thinks to himself that she must be an evil spirit, and remains 
sitting alone. “I am a fairy,” says the woman, “and I have come 
to save you because I know that you have been trying very hard to 
learn the Tao. Besides, I had an appointment with you in the pre- 
vious incarnation. Please don’t doubt me. I will accompany you to 
the Enchanted Land.” Mingliaotse remembers that when Lii 
Ch’engtse was learning the Tao at Chingshan, he was once thus de- 
ceived by a temptress and finally enslaved by an evil spirit. He lost 
his left eye, and died without being able to attain the Tao. Even 
the Classics regard the failure of Lii Ch’engtse as due to his lack of 
complete control of his mind and to the existence of evil desires. It is 
natural that, when ghosts and fox spirits tempt people, they destroy 
their life, and they should therefore be avoided. But even if sages 
and saints should make a mistake and be thus deceived, it would be 
a wrong way to control their mind and preserve their spirit. So he 
sits austerely as before and the woman all of a sudden disappears. 
Who can know whether she was a ghost or a fox spirit or a 
temptress ? 

Thus for three years Mingliaotse continues in his travels, wander- 
ing almost over the entire world. Everything that he sees with his 
eyes or hears with his ears, or touches with his body, and all the 
different situations and meetings, are thus used for the benefit of 
training his mind. And so such vagabond travel is not entirely 
without its benefits. 

He then returns and builds himself a hut in the hills of Szeming 
and never leaves it again. 

Chapter Twelve 


I. Good Taste in Knowledge 

THE aim of education or culture is merely the development of 
good taste in knowledge and good form in conduct. The cultured 
man or the ideal educated man is not necessarily one who is well- 
read or learned, but one who likes and dislikes the right things. 
To know what to love and what to hate is to have taste in knowl- 
edge. Nothing is more exasperating than to meet a person at a party 
whose mind is crammed full with historical dates and figures and 
who is extremely well posted on current affairs in Russia or Czecho- 
slovakia, but whose attitude or point of view is all wrong. I have met 
such persons, and found that there was no topic that might come up 
in the course of the conversation concerning which they did not 
have some facts or figures to produce, but whose points of 
view were deplorable. Such persons have erudition, but no dis- 
cernment, or taste. Erudition is a mere matter of cramming of 
facts or information, while taste or discernment is a matter of 
artistic judgment. In speaking of a scholar, the Chinese generally 
distinguish between a man’s scholarship, conduct, and taste or dis- 
cernment . 1 This is particularly so with regard to historians; a book 
of history may be written with the most fastidious scholarship, yet 
be totally lacking in insight or discernment, and in the judgment 
or interpretation of persons and events in history, the author may 
show no originality or depth of understanding. Such a person, we 
say, has no taste in knowledge. To be well-informed, or to accumu- 
late facts and details, is the easiest of all things. There are many 
facts in a given historical period that can be easily crammed into our 

1 Hsiich (scholarship) ; hsing (conduct) ; shih or shihchien (discernment, or real 
insight). Thus one’s shih , or power of insight into history or contemporary events, 
may be “higher” than another’s. This is what we call “power of interpretation,” or 
interpretative insight. 



mind, but discernment in the selection of significant facts is a vastly 
more difficult thing and depends upon one’s point of view. 

An educated man, therefore, is one who has the right loves and 
hatreds. This we call taste, and with taste comes charm. Now to 
have taste or discernment requires a capacity for thinking things 
through to the bottom, an independence of judgment, and an un- 
willingness to be bulldozed by any form of humbug, social, 
political, literary, artistic, or academic. There is no doubt that we are 
surrounded in our adult life with a wealth of humbugs : fame hum- 
bugs, wealth humbugs, patriotic humbugs, political humbugs, reli- 
gious humbugs and humbug poets, humbug artists, humbug 
dictators and humbug psychologists. When a psychoanalyst tells 
us that the performing of the functions of the bowels during child- 
hood has a definite connection with ambition and aggressiveness 
and sense of duty in one’s later life, or that constipation leads to 
stinginess of character, all that a man with taste can do is to feel 
amused. When a man is wrong, he is wrong, and there is no need 
for one to be impressed and overawed by a great name or by the 
number of books that he has read and we haven’t. 

Taste then is closely associated with courage, as the Chinese al- 
ways associate shih with tan, and courage or independence of judg- 
ment, as we know, is such a rare virtue among mankind. We see 
this intellectual courage or independence during the childhood of 
all thinkers and writers who in later life amount to any- 
thing. Such a person refuses to like a certain poet even if he 
has the greatest vogue during his time; then when he truly likes 
a poet, he is able to say why he likes him, and it is an appeal to 
his inner judgment. This is what we call taste in literature. He also 
refuses to give his approval to the current school of painting, if it 
jars upon his artistic instinct. This is taste in art. He also refuses to 
be impressed by a philosophic vogue or a fashionable theory, even 
though it were backed by the greatest name. He is unwilling to be 
convinced by any author until he is convinced at heart; if the 
author convinces him, then the author is right, but if the author 
cannot convince him, then he is right and the author wrong. This 


is taste in knowledge. No doubt such intellectual courage or inde- 
pendence of judgment requires a certain childish, naive confidence 
in oneself, but this self is the only thing that one can cling to, and 
the moment a student gives up his right of personal judgment, he 
is in for accepting all the humbugs of life. 

Confucius seemed to have felt that scholarship without thinking 
was more dangerous than thinking unbacked by scholarship; he 
said, “Thinking without learning makes one flighty, and learning 
without thinking is a disaster.” He must have seen enough students 
of the latter type in his days for him to utter this warning, a warn- 
ing very much needed in the modern schools. It is well known that 
modern education and the modern school system in general tend to 
encourage scholarship at the expense of discernment and look upon 
the cramming of information as an end in itself, as if a great 
amount of scholarship could already make an educated man. But 
why is thought discouraged at school ? Why has the educational sys- 
tem twisted and distorted the pleasant pursuit of knowledge into a 
mechanical, measured, uniform and passive cramming of informa- 
tion? Why do we place more importance on knowledge than on 
thought? How do we come to call a college graduate an educated 
man simply because he has made up the necessary units or week- 
hours of psychology, medieval history, logic, and “religion?” Why 
are there school marks and diplomas, and how did it come about 
that the mark and the diploma have, in the student’s mind, come 
to take the place of the true aim of education? 

The reason is simple. We have this system because we are educat- 
ing people in masses, as if in a factory, and anything which happens 
inside a factory must go by a dead and mechanical system. In order 
to protect its name and standardize its products, a school must 
certify them with diplomas. With diplomas, then, comes the ne- 
cessity of grading, and with the necessity of grading come school 
marks, and in order to have school marks, there must be recitations, 
examinations, and tests. The whole thing forms an entirely logical 
sequence and there is no escape from it. But the consequences of 
having mechanical examinations and tests are more fatal than we 


imagine. For it immediately throws the emphasis on memorization 
of facts rather than on the development of taste or judgment. I have 
been a teacher myself and know that it is easier to make a set of 
questions on historical dates than on vague opinions on vague 
questions. It is also easier to mark the papers. 

The danger is that after having instituted this system, we are 
liable to forget that we have already wavered, or are apt to waver 
from the true ideal of education, which as I say is the development 
of good taste in knowledge. It is still useful to remember what Con- 
fucius said: “That scholarship which consists in the memorization of 
facts does not qualify one to be a teacher.” There are no such things 
as compulsory subjects, no books, even Shakespeare’s, that one must 
read. The school seems to proceed on the foolish idea that we can 
delimit a minimum stock of learning in history or geography which 
we can consider the absolute requisite of an educated man. I am 
pretty well educated, although I am in utter confusion about the 
capital of Spain, and at one time thought that Havana was the 
name of an island next to Cuba. The danger of prescribing a course 
of compulsory studies is that it implies that a man who has gone 
through the prescribed course ipso facto knows all there is to know 
for an educated man. It is therefore entirely logical that a graduate 
ceases to learn anything or to read books after he leaves school, 
because he has already learned all there is to know. 

We must give up the idea that a man’s knowledge can be tested 
or measured in any form whatsoever. Chuangtse has well said, 
“Alas, my life is limited, while knowledge is limidess!” The pursuit 
of knowledge is, after all, only like the exploration of a new conti- 
nent, or “an adventure of the soul,” as Anatole France says, and it 
will remain a pleasure, instead of becoming a torture, if the spirit 
of exploration with an open, questioning, curious and adventurous 
mind is maintained. Instead of the measured, uniform and passive 
cramming of information, we have to place this ideal of a positive, 
growing individual pleasure. Once the diploma and the marks are 
abolished, or treated for what they are worth, the pursuit of knowl- 
edge becomes positive, for the student is at least forced to ask him- 


self why he studies at all. At present, the question is already 
answered for the student, for there is no question in his mind that 
he studies as a freshman in order to become a sophomore, and 
studies as a sophomore in order to become a junior. All such ex- 
traneous considerations should be brushed aside, for the acquisition 
of knowledge is nobody else’s business but one’s own. At present, 
all students study for the registrar, and many of the good students 
study for their parents or teachers or their future wives, that they 
may not seem ungrateful to their parents who are spending so much 
money for their support at college, or because they wish to appear 
nice to a teacher who is nice and conscientious to them, or that they 
may go out of school and earn a higher salary to feed their families. 
I suggest that all such thoughts are immoral. The pursuit of knowl- 
edge should remain nobody else’s business but one’s own, and only 
then can education become a pleasure and become positive. 

II. Art as Play and Personality 

Art is both creation and recreation. Of the two ideas, I think 
art as recreation or as sheer play of the human spirit is more im- 
portant. Much as I appreciate all forms of immortal creative work, 
whether in painting, architecture or literature, I think the spirit of 
true art can become more general and permeate society only when 
a lot of people are enjoying art as a pastime, without any hope of 
achieving immortality. As it is more important that all college 
students should play tennis or football with indifferent skill than 
that a college should produce a few champion athletes or football 
players for the national contests, so it is also more important that 
all children and all grown-ups should be able to create something 
of their own as their pastime than that the nation should produce 
a Rodin. I would rather have all school children taught to model 
clay and all bank presidents and economic experts able to make 
their own Christmas cards, however ridiculous the attempt may 
be, than to have only a few artists who work at art as a profession. 
That is to say, I am for amateurism in all fields. I like amateur 


philosophers, amateur poets, amateur photographers, amateur 
magicians, amateur architects who build their own houses, ama- 
teur musicians, amateur botanists and amateur aviators. I get as 
much pleasure out of listening to a friend playing a sonatina of 
an evening in an indifferent manner as out of listening to a first- 
class professional concert. And everyone enjoys an amateur parlor 
magician, who is one of his friends, more than he enjoys a pro- 
fessional magician on the stage, and every parent enjoys the ama- 
teur dramatics of his own children much more heartily than he 
enjoys a Shakespearean play. We know that it is spontaneous, 
and in spontaneity alone lies the true spirit of art. That is why 
I regard it as so important that in China painting is essentially the 
pastime of a scholar and not of a professional artist. It is only 
when the spirit of play is kept that art can escape being commer- 

Now it is characteristic of play that one plays without reason 
and there must be no reason for it. Play is its own good reason. 
This view is borne out by the history of evolution. Beauty is some- 
thing that cannot be accounted for by the struggle for existence, 
and there are forms of beauty that are destructive even to the ani- 
mal, like the over-developed horns of a deer. Darwin saw that he 
could never account for the beauties of plant and animal life by 
natural selection, and he had to introduce the great secondary 
principle of sexual selection. We fail to understand art and the 
essence of art if we do not recognize it as merely an overflow of 
physical and mental energy, free and unhampered and existing 
for its own sake. This is the much decried formula of “art for 
art’s sake.” I regard this not as a question upon which the politi- 
cians have the right to say anything, but merely as an incontro- 
vertible fact regarding the psychological origin of all artistic 
creation. Hitler has denounced many forms of modern art as im- 
moral, but I consider that those painters who paint portraits of 
Hitler, to be shown at the new Art Museum in order to please the 
powerful ruler, are the most immoral of all. That is not art, but 
prostitution. If commercial art often injures the spirit of artistic 


creation, political art is sure to kill it. For freedom is the very soul 
of art. Modern dictators are attempting the impossible when they 
try to produce a political art. They don’t seem to realize that you 
cannot produce art by the force of the bayonet any more than you 
can buy real love from a prostitute. 

In order to understand the essence of art at all, we have to go 
back to the physical basis of art as an overflow of energy. This is 
known as an artistic or creative impulse. The use of the very word 
“inspiration” shows that the artist himself hardly knows where 
the impulse comes from. It is merely a matter of inner urge, like 
the scientist’s impulse for the discovery of truth, or the explorer’s 
impulse for discovering a new island. There is no accounting for it. 
We are beginning to see today, with the help of biological knowl- 
edge, that the whole organization of our mental life is regulated 
by the increase or decrease and distribution of hormones in the 
blood, acting on the various organs and the nervous system con- 
trolling these organs. Even anger or fear is merely a matter of the 
supply of adrenalin. Genius itself, it seems to me, is but an over- 
supply of glandular secretions. An obscure Chinese novelist, with- 
out the modern knowledge of hormones, made a correct guess 
about the origion of all activity as due to “worms” in our body. 
Adultery is a matter of worms gnawing our intestines and im- 
pelling the man to satisfy his desire. Ambition and aggressiveness 
and love of fame or power are also due to certain other worms giv- 
ing the person no rest until he has achieved the object of his am- 
bition. The writing of a book, say a novel, is again due to a species 
of worms which impel and urge the author to create for no reason 
whatsoever. Between hormones and worms, I prefer to believe in 
the latter. The term is more vivid. 

Given an over-supply or even a normal supply of worms, a man 
is bound to create something or other, because he cannot help 
himself. When a child has an over-supply of energy, his normal 
walking is transformed into hopping or skipping. When a man 
has an oversupply of energy, his walking becomes transformed 
into prancing or dancing. So, then, dancing is nothing but in- 


efficient walking, inefficient in the sense that there is a waste of 
energy from an utilitarian, not an aesthetic, point of view. Instead 
of going straight to a point, which is the quickest road, a dancer 
waltzes and goes in a circle. No one really tries to be patriotic 
when he is dancing, and to command a man to dance according to 
the capitalist or fascist or proletarian ideology is to destroy the 
spirit of play and glorious inefficiency in dancing. If a Communist 
is trying to attain a political objective, or trying to be a loyal com- 
rade, he should just walk, and not dance. The Communists seem 
to know the sacredness of labor, and not the sacredness of play. 
As if man in civilization didn’t work too much already, in com- 
parison with every other species and variety of the animal king- 
dom, so that even the little leisure he has, the little time for play 
and art, must too be invaded by the claims of that monster, the 

This understanding of the true nature of art as consisting in 
mere play may help to clarify the problem of the relationship of 
art and morality. Beauty is merely good form, and there is good 
form in conduct as well as in good painting or a beautiful bridge. 
Art is very much broader than painting and music and dancing, 
because there is good form in everything. There is good form in 
an athlete at a race; there is good form in a man leading a beauti- 
ful life from childhood and youth to maturity and old age, each 
appropriate in its own time; there is good form in a presidential 
campaign well directed, well maneuvered and leading gradually 
to a finale of victory, and there is good form, too, in one’s laughter 
or spitting, as so carefully practised by the old Mandarins in China. 
Every human activity has a form and expression, and all forms of 
expressions lie within the definition of art. It is therefore im- 
possible to relegate the art of expression to the few fields of music 
and dancing and painting. 

With this broader interpretation of art, therefore, good form in 
conduct and good personality in art are closely related and are 
equally important. There can be a luxury in our bodily movements, 
as in the movement of a symphonic poem. Given that over-supply 


of energy, there is an ease and gracefulness and attendance to form 
in whatever we do. Now ease and gracefulness come from a feel- 
ing of physical competence, a feeling of ability to do a thing more 
than well — to do it beautifully. In the more abstract realms, we 
see this beauty in anybody doing a nice job. The impulse to do a 
nice job or a neat job is essentially an aesthetic impulse. Even a 
neat murder, a neat conspiracy neatly carried out, is beautiful to 
look at, however condemnable the act may be. In the more con- 
crete details of our life, there is, or there can be, ease and grace- 
fulness and competence, too. All the things we call “the amenities 
of life” belong in this category. Paying a compliment well and 
appropriately is called a beautiful compliment, and on the other 
hand, paying a compliment with bad taste is called an awkward 

The development of the amenities of speech and life and per- 
sonal habits reached a high point at the end of the Chin Dynasty 
(third and fourth centuries, A. D.) in China. That was the time 
when “leisurely conversations” were in vogue. The greatest sophisti- 
cation was seen in women’s dress, and there were a great number of 
men noted for their handsomeness. There was a fashion for growing 
“beautiful beards,” and men learned to wabble about clad in ex- 
tremely loose gowns. The dress was so designed that there was no 
part of one’s body unreachable in case one wanted to scratch an 
itch. Everything was gracefully done. The chu, a bundle of hair 
from the horse’s tail tied together around a handle for driving away 
mosquitoes or flies, became an important accessory of conversation, 
and today such leisurely conversations are still known in literary 
works as chut'an or “ chu conversations.” The idea was that one 
was to hold the chu in his hand and wave it gracefully about in 
the air during conversation. The fan came in also as a beautiful 
adjunct to conversation, the conversationalist opening, waving and 
closing it, as an American old man would take off his spectacles 
and put them on again during a speech, and was just as beautiful 
to look at. In point of utility, the chu or the fan was only slightly 
more useful than an Englishman’s monocle, but they were all parts 


of the style of conversation, as a cane is a part of the style of 
walking. Among the most beautiful amenities of life I have seen 
in the West are the clicking of heels of Prussian gentlemen bowing 
to a lady in a parlor and the curtsying of German girls, with one 
leg crossed behind the other. That I consider a supremely beautiful 
gesture, and it is a pity that this custom has gone out of vogue. 

Many are the social amenities practised in China. The gestures of 
one’s fingers, hands and arms are carefully cultivated. The method 
of greeting among the Manchus, known as tach’ien, is also a beauti- 
ful thing to look at. The person comes into the room, and letting 
one arm fall straight down at the side, he bends one of his legs 
and makes a graceful dip. In case there is company sitting around 
the room, he makes a graceful turn around the axis of his unbent 
leg while in that position, thus making a general greeting to the 
entire company. One should also watch a cultivated chess-player 
put his stones on the chessboard. Holding one of those tiny white 
or black stones carefully balanced on his forefinger, he gently pushes 
it from behind by an outward movement of his thumb and an in- 
ward movement of the forefinger, and lands it beautifully on the 
board. A cultured Mandarin made extremely beautiful gestures 
when he was angry. He wore a gown with the sleeves tucked up 
at the lower ends showing the silk lining, known as “horse-hoof 
sleeves,” and when he was greatly displeased, he would brandish 
his right arm or both arms downwards and with an audible jerk 
bring the tucked-up “horse-hoof” down, and gracefully wobble out 
of the room. This is known as fohsiu, or to “brush one’s sleeves and 

The speech of a cultured Mandarin official is also a beautiful thing 
to hear. His words come out with a beautiful cadence, and the musi- 
cal tones of the Peking accent have a graceful musical rise and fall. 
His syllables are pronounced gracefully and slowly, and in the case 
of real scholars, his language is set up with jewels from the Chinese 
literary language. And then one should hear how the Mandarin 
laughs or spits. It is positively delightful. The spitting is done 
generally in three musical beats, the first two being sounds of draw- 


ing in and clearing the throat in preparation for the final beat of 
spitting out, which is executed with a quick forcef ulness : staccato 
after legato. I really don’t mind the germs thus let out into the air, 
if the spitting is aesthetically done, for I have survived the germs 
without any appreciable effect on my health. His laughter is an 
equally regulated and artistically rhythmical affair, slightly artificial 
and stylized, and finishing off in an increasing generous volume, 
pleasantly softened by a white beard when there is one. 

Such laughter is a carefully cultivated art with an actor as part of 
his technique of acting, and theater-goers always enjoy and applaud 
a perfecdy executed laugh. This is of course a very difficult thing, 
because there are so many kinds of laughter: the laughter of happi- 
ness, the laughter at some one falling into one’s trap, the laughter 
of sneer or contempt, and most difficult of all, the laughter 
of despair, of a man caught and defeated by the force of over- 
whelming circumstances. Chinese theater-goers watch for these 
things and for the hand gestures and steps of an actor, the latter 
being known as t'aipu, or “stage steps.” Every movement of the 
arm, every inclination of the head, every twist of the neck, every 
bend of the back, every waving movement of the flowing sleeve, 
and of course every step of the foot, is a carefully practiced ges- 
ture. The Chinese classify acting into the two classes of singing 
and acting, and there are plays with emphasis On singing, and 
other dramas with emphasis on acting. By “acting” is meant these 
gestures of the body, the hands and the face, as much as the more 
general acting of emotions and expressions. Chinese actors have to 
learn how to shake their heads in disapproval, how to lift their eye- 
brows in suspicion, and how to gently stroke their beard in peace 
and satisfaction. 

Now we are ready to discuss the problem of morality and art. 
The utter confusion of art and propaganda in fascist and com- 
munist countries and its na'ive acceptance by so many intellectuals 
in a democracy make it necessary for every intelligent person to 
come to a clear understanding of the problem. The Communists 
and Fascists make a false start at the very beginning by ignoring the 


role of the individual, both as the creating personality and the 
object of the creation, and placing in its stead the superior claims of 
either the state or the social class. While literature and art must both 
be built on personal, individual emotions, the Communists and 
Fascists emphasize only group or class emotions, without postulat- 
ing the reality of emotions in varying individuals. With individual 
personality pushed out of court, one cannot even begin to discuss 
the problem of art and morality sanely. 

Art has a relationship to morals only insofar as the peculiar 
quality of a work of art is an expression of the artist’s personality. 
An artist with a grand personality produces grand art; an artist 
with a trivial personality produces trivial art; a sentimental artist 
produces sentimental art, a voluptuous artist produces voluptuous 
art, a tender artist produces tender art, and an artist of delicacy pro- 
duces delicate art. There we have the relationship of art and moral- 
ity in a nutshell. Morality, therefore, is not a thing that can be 
superimposed from the outside, according to the changing whims 
of a dictator or the changing ethical code of the Chief of the Propa- 
ganda Department. It must grow from the inside as the natural 
expression of the artist’s soul. And it is not a question of choice, but 
an inescapable fact. The mean-hearted artist cannot produce a great 
painting, and a big-hearted artist cannot produce a mean picture, 
even if his life were at stake. 

The Chinese notion of p’in in art is extremely interesting, some- 
times spoken of as jenp’in (“personality of the man”) or p’inkeh 
(“personality of character”). There is also an idea of grading, as 
we speak of artists or poets of “the first p’in ” or “second p’in" 
and we also speak of tasting or sampling good tea as “to p’in tea.” 
There are then a whole category of expressions in connection with 
the personality of a person as shown in a particular action. In the 
first place, a bad gambler, or a gambler who shows bad temper 
or bad taste, is said to have a bad tup’ in or a bad “gambling 
personality.” A drinker who is apt to behave disgracefully after a 
hard drink is said to have a bad chiup’in or bad “wine personality.” 
A good or bad chess-player is said to have a good or bad ch’ip’in 


or “chess personality.” The earliest Chinese book of poetic criticism 
is known as Shihp’in 2 ( Personalities of Poetry), with a grading 
of the different poets, and of course there are books of art criticism 
known as huap’in or “Personalities in Painting.” 

Connected with this idea of p’in, therefore, there is the generally 
accepted belief that an artist’s work is stricdy determined by his 
personality. This “personality” is both moral and artistic. It tends 
to emphasize the notion of human understanding, high-minded- 
ness, detachment from life, absence of pettiness or triviality or 
vulgarity. In this sense it is akin to English “manner” or “style.” 
A wayward or unconventional artist will show a wayward or 
unconventional style and a person of charm will naturally show 
charm and delicacy in his style, and a great artist with good taste 
will not stoop to “mannerisms.” In this sense, personality is the 
very soul of art. The Chinese have always accepted implicitly the 
belief that no painter can be great unless his own moral and 
aesthetic personality is great, and in judging calligraphy and paint- 
ing, the highest criterion is not whether the artist shows good tech- 
nique but whether he has or has not a high personality. A work, 
showing perfect technique, may nevertheless show a “low” per- 
sonality, and then, as we would say in English, that work lacks 

We have come thus to the central problem of all art. The great 
Chinese general and premier, Tseng Kuofan, said in one of his 
family letters that the only two living principles of art in calligra- 
phy are form and expression, and that one of the greatest calli- 
graphists of the time, Ho Shaochi, approved of his formula and 
appreciated his insight. Since all art is concrete, there is always 
a mechanical problem, the problem of technique, which has to 
be mastered, but as art is also spirit, the vital element in all forms 
of creation is the personal expression. It is the artist’s individuality, 
over against his mere technique, that is the only significant thing 
in a work of art. In writing, the only important thing in a book 
is the author’s personal style and feeling, as shown in his judg- 

2 By Chung Yung, who lived about A. D. 500. 


ment and likes and dislikes. There is a constant danger of this 
personality or personal expression being submerged by the tech- 
nique, and the greatest difficulty of all beginners, whether in 
painting or writing or acting, is to let oneself go. The reason is, 
of course, that the beginner is scared by the form or technique. But 
no form without this personal element can be good form at all. 
All good form has a swing, and it is the swing that is beautiful to 
look at, whether it is the swing of a champion golf-player’s club, 
or of a man rocketing to success, or of a football player carrying 
the ball down the field. There must be a flow of expression, and 
that power of expression must not be hampered by the technique, 
but must be able to move freely and happily in it. There is that 
swing — so beautiful to look at — in a train going around a curve, 
or a yacht going at full speed with straight sails. There is that swing 
in the flight of a swallow, or of a hawk dashing down on its prey, or 
of a champion horse racing to the finish “in good form,” as we say. 

We require that all art must have character, and character is 
nothing but what the work of art suggests or reveals concerning 
the artist’s personality or soul or heart or, as the Chinese put it, 
“breast.” Without that character or personality, a work of art is 
dead, and no amount of virtuosity or mere perfection of technique 
can save it from lifelessness or lack of vitality. Without that highly 
individual thing called personality, beauty itself becomes banal. 
So many girls aspiring to be Hollywood stars do not know this, 
and content themselves with imitating Marlene Dietrich or Jean 
Harlow, thus exasperating a movie director looking for talent. 
There are so many banally pretty faces, and so little fresh, individual 
beauty. Why don’t they study the acting of Marie Dressier? All art is 
one and based on the same principle of expression or personality, 
whether it is acting in a movie picture or painting or literary 
authorship. Really, by looking at the acting of Marie Dressier or 
Lionel Barrymore, one can learn the secret of style in writing. To 
cultivate the charm of that personality is the important basis for all 
art, for no matter what an artist does, his character shows in his 


The cultivation of personality is both moral and aesthetic, and 
it requires both scholarship and refinement. Refinement is some- 
thing nearer to taste and may be just born in an artist, but the 
highest pleasure of looking at a book of art is felt only when it 
is supported by scholarship. This is particularly clear in painting 
and calligraphy. One can tell from a piece of calligraphy whether 
the writer has or has not seen a great number of Wei rubbings. 
If he has, this scholarship gives him a certain antique manner, 
but in addition to that, he must put into it his own soul or per- 
sonality, which varies of course. If he is a delicate and sentimental 
soul, he will show a delicate and sentimental style, but if he loves 
strength or massive power, he will also adopt a style that goes in for 
strength and massive power. Thus in painting and calligraphy, 
particularly the latter, we are able to see a whole category of aes- 
thetic qualities or different types of beauty, and no one will be able 
to separate the beauty of the finished product and the beauty of 
the artist’s own soul. There may be beauty of whimsicality and 
waywardness, beauty of rugged strength, beauty of massive power, 
beauty of spiritual freedom, beauty of courage and dash, beauty of 
romantic charm, beauty of restraint, beauty of soft gracefulness, 
beauty of austerity, beauty of simplicity and “stupidity,” beauty of 
mere regularity, beauty of swiftness, and sometimes even beauty of 
affected ugliness. There is only one form of beauty that is impossible 
because it does not exist, and that is the beauty of strenuousness or 
of the strenuous life. 

III. The Art of Reading 

Reading or the enjoyment of books has always been regarded 
among the charms of a cultured life and is respected and envied 
by those who rarely give themselves that privilege. This is easy to 
understand when we compare the difference between the life of 
a man who does no reading and that of a man who does. The 
man who has not the habit of reading is imprisoned in his imme- 
diate world, in respect to time and space. His life falls into a set 


routine; he is limited to contact and conversation with a few 
friends and acquaintances, and he sees only what happens in his 
immediate neighborhood. From this prison there is no escape. But 
the moment he takes up a book, he immediately enters a different 
world, and if it is a good book, he is immediately put in touch 
with one of the best talkers of the world. This talker leads him on 
and carries him into a different country or a different age, or 
unburdens to him some of his personal regrets, or discusses with 
him some special line or aspect of life that the reader knows noth- 
ing about. An ancient author puts him in communion with a dead 
spirit of long ago, and as he reads along, he begins to imagine 
what that ancient author looked like and what type of person 
he was. Both Mencius and Ssema Ch’ien, China’s greatest historian, 
have expressed the same idea. Now to be able to live two hours 
out of twelve in a different world and take one’s thoughts off the 
claims of the immediate present is, of course, a privilege to be 
envied by people shut up in their bodily prison. Such a change of 
environment is really similar to travel in its psychological effect. 

But there is more to it than this. The reader is always carried 
away into a world of thought and reflection. Even if it is a book 
about physical events, there is a difference between seeing such 
events in person or living through them, and reading about them 
in books, for then the events always assume the quality of a 
spectacle and the reader becomes a detached spectator. The best 
reading is therefore that which leads us into this contemplative 
mood, and not that which is merely occupied with the report of 
events. The tremendous amount of time spent on newspapers I 
regard as not reading at all, for the average readers of papers are 
mainly concerned with getting reports about events and happenings 
without contemplative value. 

The best formula for the object of reading, in my opinion, was 
stated by Huang Shanku, a Sung poet and friend of Su Tungp’o. 
He said, “A scholar who hasn’t read anything for three days 
feels that his tal\ has no flavor (becomes insipid), and his own 
face becomes hateful to loo\ at (in the mirror).” What he means, 


of course, is that reading gives a man a certain charm and flavor, 
which is the entire object of reading, and only reading with this 
object can be called an art. One doesn’t read to “improve one’s 
mind,” because when one begins to think of improving his mind, 
all the pleasure of reading is gone. He is the type of person who 
says to himself: “I must read Shakespeare, and I must read 
Sophocles, and I must read the entire Five Foot Shelf of Dr. 
Eliot, so I can become an educated man.” I’m sure that man will 
never become educated. He will force himself one evening to read 
Shakespeare’s Hamlet and come away, as if from a bad dream, 
with no greater benefit than that he is able to say that he has 
“read” Hamlet. Anyone who reads a book with a sense of obliga- 
tion does not understand the art of reading. This type of reading 
with a business purpose is in no way different from a senator’s 
reading up of files and reports before he makes a speech. It is asking 
for business advice and information, and not reading at all. 

Reading for the cultivation of personal charm of appearance and 
flavor in speech is then, according to Huang, the only admissible 
kind of reading. This charm of appearance must evidently be 
interpreted as something other than physical beauty. What Huang 
means by “hateful to look at” is not physical ugliness. There are 
ugly faces that have a fascinating charm and beautiful faces that 
are insipid to look at. I have among my Chinese friends one whose 
head is shaped like a bomb and yet who is nevertheless always a 
pleasure to see. The most beautiful face among Western authors, 
so far as I have seen them in pictures, was that of G. K. Chesterton. 
There was such a diabolical conglomeration of mustache, glasses, 
fairly bushy eyebrows and knitted lines where the eyebrows met! 
One felt there were a vast number of ideas playing about inside 
that forehead, ready at any time to burst out from those quizzically 
penetrating eyes. That is what Huang would call a beautiful face, 
a face not made up by powder and rouge, but by the sheer force 
of thinking. As for flavor of speech, it all depends on one’s way 
of reading. Whether one has “flavor” or not in his talk, depends 
on his method of reading. If a reader gets the flavor of books, 


he will show that flavor in his conversations, and if he has flavor 
in his conversations, he cannot help also having a flavor in his 

Hence I consider flavor or taste as the key to all reading. It 
necessarily follows that taste is selective and individual, like the taste 
for food. The most hygienic way of eating is, after all, eating what 
one likes, for then one is sure of his digestion. In reading as in eat- 
ing, what is one man’s meat may be another’s poison. A teacher 
cannot force his pupils to like what he likes in reading, and a 
parent cannot expect his children to have the same tastes as him- 
self. And if the reader has no taste for what he reads, all the time 
is wasted. As Yuan Chunglang says, “You can leave the books 
that you don’t like alone, and let other people read them.” 

There can be, therefore, no books that one absolutely must read. 
For our intellectual interests grow like a tree or flow like a river. 
So long as there is proper sap, the tree will grow anyhow, and so 
long as there is fresh current from the spring, the water will flow. 
When water strikes a granite cliff, it just goes around it; when it 
finds itself in a pleasant low valley, it stops and meanders there a 
while; when it finds itself in a deep mountain pond, it is content 
to stay there; when it finds itself traveling over rapids, it hurries 
forward. Thus, without any effort or determined aim, it is sure 
of reaching the sea some day. There are no books in this world 
that everybody must read, but only books that a person must read 
at a certain time in a given place under given circumstances and 
at a given period of his life. I rather think that reading, like 
matrimony is determined by fate or yinyuan. Even if there is a 
certain book that every one must read, like the Bible, there is a time 
for it. When one’s thoughts and experience have not reached a cer- 
tain point for reading a masterpiece, the masterpiece will leave only a 
bad flavor on his palate. Confucius said, “When one is fifty, one 
may read the Bool ^ of Changes ,” which means that one should 
not read it at forty-five. The extremely mild flavor of Confucius’ 
own sayings in the Analects and his mature wisdom cannot be 
appreciated until one becomes mature himself. 


Furthermore, the same reader reading the same book at different 
periods, gets a different flavor out of it. For instance, we enjoy a 
book more after we have had a personal talk with the author him- 
self, or even after having seen a picture of his face, and one gets 
again a different flavor sometimes after one has broken off friend- 
ship with the author. A person gets a kind of flavor from reading 
the Boo\ of Changes at forty, and gets another kind of flavor read- 
ing it at fifty, after he has seen more changes in life. Therefore, all 
good books can be read with profit and renewed pleasure a second 
time. I was made to read Westward Ho! and Henry Esmond in 
my college days, but while I was capable of appreciating Westward 
Ho! in my ’teens, the real flavor of Henry Esmond escaped me 
entirely until I reflected about it later on, and suspected there was 
vastly more charm in that book than I had then been capable of ap- 

Reading, therefore, is an act consisting of two sides, the author 
and the reader. The net gain comes as much from the reader’s 
contribution through his own insight and experience as from the 
author’s own. In speaking about the Confucian Analacts, the Sung 
Confucianist Ch’eng Yich’uan said, “There are readers and 
readers. Some read the Analects and feel that nothing has happened, 
some are pleased with one or two lines in it, and some begin to 
wave their hands and dance on their legs unconsciously.” 

I regard the discovery of one’s favorite author as the most critical 
event in one’s intellectual development. There is such a thing as the 
affinity of spirits, and among the authors of ancient and modern 
times, one must try to find an author whose spirit is akin with his 
own. Only in this way can one get any real good out of reading. 
One has to be independent and search out his masters. Who is one’s 
favorite author, no one can tell, probably not even the man him- 
self. It is like love at first sight. The reader cannot be told to love 
this one or that one, but when he has found the author he loves, 
he knows it himself by a kind of instinct. We have such famous 
cases of discoveries of authors. Scholars seem to have lived in differ- 
ent ages, separated by centuries, and yet their modes of thinking 


3 Sl 

and feeling were so akin that their coming together across the pages 
of a book was like a person finding his own image. In Chinese 
phraseology, we speak of these kindred spirits as re-incarnations of 
the same soul, as Su Tungp’o was said to be a re-incarnation of 
Chuangtse or T’ao Yiianming , 3 and Yuan Chunglang was said to 
be the re-incarnation of Su Tungp’o. Su Tungp’o said that when he 
first read Chuangtse, he felt as if all the time since his childhood he 
had been thinking the same things and taking the same views 
himself. When Yuan Chunglang discovered one night Hsii 
Wench ’ang, a contemporary unknown to him, in a small book of 
poems, he jumped out of bed and shouted to his friend, and his 
friend began to read it and shout in turn, and then they both read 
and shouted again until their servant was completely puzzled. 
George Eliot described her first reading of Rousseau as an electric 
shock. Nietzsche felt the same thing about Schopenhauer, but 
Schopenhauer was a peevish master and Nietzsche was a violent- 
tempered pupil, and it was natural that the pupil later rebelled 
against the teacher. 

It is only this kind of reading, this discovery of one’s favorite 
author, that will do one any good at all. Like a man falling in love 
with his sweetheart at first sight, everything is right. She is of the 
right height, has the right face, the right color of hair, the right 
quality of voice and the right way of speaking and smiling. This 
author is not something that a young man need be told about by 
his teacher. The author is just right for him; his style, his taste, his 
point of view, his mode of thinking, are all right. And then the 
reader proceeds to devour every word and every line that the author 
writes, and because there is a spiritual affinity, he absorbs and readily 
digests everything. The author has cast a spell over him, and he is 
glad to be under the spell, and in time his own voice and manner 
and way of smiling and way of talking become like the author’s 

3 Su Tungp’o performed the unique feat of writing a complete set of poems on 
the rhymes used by the complete poems of T’ao, and at the end of the collection 
of Su’s Poems on T’ao’s Rhymes, he said of himself that he was the re-incarnation of 
T’ao, whom he admired desperately above all other predecessors. 


own. Thus he truly steeps himself in his literary lover and derives 
from these books sustenance for his soul. After a few years, the spell 
is over and he grows a little tired of this lover and seeks for new 
literary lovers, and after he has had three or four lovers and com- 
pletely eaten them up, he emerges as an author himself. There are 
many readers who never fall in love, like many young men and 
women who flirt around and are incapable of forming a deep attach- 
ment to a particular person. They can read any and all authors, and 
they never amount to anything. 

Such a conception of the art of reading completely precludes the 
idea of reading as a duty or as an obligation. In China, one often 
encourages students to “study bitterly.” There was a famous scholar 
who studied bitterly and who stuck an awl in his calf when he fell 
asleep while studying at night. There was another scholar who had 
a maid stand by his side as he was studying at night, to wake him 
up every time he fell asleep. This was nonsensical. If one has a 
book lying before him and falls asleep while some wise ancient 
author is talking to him, he should just go to bed. No amount of 
sticking an awl in his calf or of shaking him up by a maid will do 
him any good. Such a man has lost all sense of the pleasure of 
reading. Scholars who are worth anything at all never know what 
is called “a hard grind” or what “bitter study” means. They merely 
love books and read on because they cannot help themselves. 

With this question solved, the question of time and place for 
reading is also provided with an answer. There is no proper time 
and place for reading. When the mood for reading comes, one can 
read anywhere. If one knows the enjoyment of reading, he will read 
in school or out of school, and in spite of all schools. He can study 
even in the best schools. Tseng Kuofan, in one of his family letters 
concerning the expressed desire of one of his younger brothers to 
come to the capital and study at a better school, replied that: “If one 
has the desire to study, he can study at a country school, or even 
on a desert or in busy streets, and even as a woodcutter or a swine- 
herd. But if one has no desire to study, then not only is the country 
school not proper for study, but even a quiet country home or a 


fairy island is not a proper place for study.” There are people who 
adopt a self-important posture at the desk when they are about to 
do some reading, and then complain they are unable to read because 
the room is too cold, or the chair is too hard, or the light is too 
strong. And there are writers who complain that they cannot write 
because there are too many mosquitos, or the writing paper is too 
shiny, or the noise from the street is too great. The great Sung, 
scholar, Ouyang Hsiu, confessed to “three on’s” for doing his best 
writing: on the pillow, on horseback and on the toilet. Another 
famous Ch’ing scholar, Ku Ch’ienli, was known for his habit of 
“reading Confucian classics naked” in summer. On the other hand, 
there is a good reason for not doing any reading in any of the 
seasons of the year, if one does not like reading: 

To study in spring is treason; 

And summer is sleep’s best reason; 

If winter hurries the fall, 

Then stop till next spring season. 

What, then, is the true art of reading? The simple answer is to 
just take up a book and read when the mood comes. To be 
thoroughly enjoyed, reading must be entirely spontaneous. One 
takes a limp volume of Lisao, or of Omar Khayyam, and goes away 
hand in hand with his love to read on a river bank. If there are 
good clouds over one’s head, let them read the clouds and forget 
the books, or read the books and the clouds at the same time. 
Between times, a good pipe or a good cup of tea makes it still more 
perfect. Or perhaps on a snowy night, when one is sitting before the 
fireside, and there is a kettle singing on the hearth and a good pouch 
of tobacco at the side, one gathers ten or a dozen books on philoso- 
phy, economics, poetry, biography and piles them up on the couch, 
and then leisurely turns over a few of them and gently lights on the 
one which strikes his fancy at the moment. Chin Shengt’an regards 
reading a banned book behind closed doors on a snowy night as one 
of the greatest pleasures of life. The mood for reading is perfectly 
described by Ch’en Chiju (Meikung) : “The ancient people called 


books and paintings ‘limp volumes’ and ‘soft volumes’; therefore 
the best style of reading a book or opening an album is the leisurely 
style.” In this mood, one develops patience for everything. As the 
same author says, “The real master tolerates misprints when reading 
history, as a good traveller tolerates bad roads when climbing a 
mountain, one going to watch a snow scene tolerates a flimsy bridge, 
one choosing to live in the country tolerates vulgar people, and one 
bent on looking at flowers tolerates bad wine.” 

The best description of the pleasure of reading I found in the 
autobiography of China’s greatest poetess, Li Ch’ingchao (Yi-an, 
1081-1141). She and her husband would go to the temple, where 
secondhand books and rubbings from stone inscriptions were sold, 
on the day he got his monthly stipend as a student at the Imperial 
Academy. Then they would buy some fruit on the way back, and 
coming home, they began to pare the fruit and examine the newly 
bought rubbings together, or drink tea and compare the variants in 
different editions. As described in her autobiographical sketch 
known as Postscript to Chinshihlu (a book on bronze and stone 
inscriptions) : 

I have a power for memory, and sitting quietly after supper 
in the Homecoming Hall, we would boil a pot of tea and, 
pointing to the piles of books on the shelves, make a guess as 
to on what line of what page in what volume of a certain book 
a passage occurred and see who was right, the one making the 
correct guess having the privilege of drinking his cup of tea 
first. When a guess was correct, we would lift the cup high and 
break out into a loud laughter, so much so that sometimes the 
tea was spilled on our dress and we were not able to drink. We 
were then content to live and grow old in such a world! There- 
fore we held our heads high, although we were living in pov- 
erty and sorrow ... In time our collection grew bigger and 
bigger and the books and art objects were piled up on tables 
and desks and beds, and we enjoyed them with our eyes and 
our minds and planned and discussed over them, tasting a hap- 
piness above those enjoying dogs and horses and music and 
dance .... 


This sketch was written in her old age after her husband had 
died, when she was a lonely old woman fleeing from place to place 
during the invasion of North China by the Chin tribes. 

IV. The Art of Writing 

The art of writing is very much broader than the art of writing 
itself, or of the writing technique. In fact, it would be helpful to a 
beginner who aspires to be a writer first to dispel in him any over- 
concern with the technique of writing, and tell him to stop trifling 
with such superficial matters and get down to the depths of his 
soul, to the end of developing a genuine literary personality as the 
foundation of all authorship. When the foundation is properly laid 
and a genuine literary personality is cultivated, style follows as a 
natural consequence and the little points of technique will take 
care of themselves. It really does not matter if he is a little confused 
about points of rhetoric and grammar, provided he can turn out 
good stuff. There are always professional readers with publishing 
houses whose business it is to attend to the commas, semicolons, 
and split infinitives. On the other hand, no amount of grammatical 
or literary polish can make a writer if he neglects the cultivation 
of a literary personality. As Buffon says, “The style is the man.” 
Style is not a method, a system or even a decoration for one’s writ- 
ing; it is but the total impression that the reader gets of the quality 
of the writer’s mind, his depth or superficiality, his insight or lack 
of insight and other qualities like wit, humor, biting sarcasm, genial 
understanding, tenderness, delicacy of understanding, kindly 
cynicism or cynical kindliness, hardheadedness, practical common 
sense, and general attitude toward things. It is clear that there can 
be no handbook for developing a “humorous technique” or a “three- 
hour course in cynical kindliness,” or “fifteen rules for practical 
common sense” and “eleven rules for delicacy of feeling.” 

We have to go deeper than the surface of the art of writing, and 
the moment we do that, we find that the question of the art of 
writing involves the whole question of literature, of thought, point 


of view, sentiment and reading and writing. In my literary campaign 
in China for restoring the School of Self-Expression ( hsingling ) and 
for the development of a more lively and personal style in prose, I 
have been forced to write essay after essay giving my views on 
literature in general and on the art of writing in particular. I have 
attempted also to write a series of literary epigrams under the general 
title “Cigar Ashes.” Here are some of the cigar ashes: 

(a) Technique and Personality 

Professors of composition talk about literature as carpenters 
talk about art. Critics analyze a literary composition by the 
technique of writing, as engineers measure the height and struc- 
ture of Taishan by compasses. 

There is no such thing as the technique of writing. All good 
Chinese writers who to my mind are worth anything have 
repudiated it. 

The technique of writing is to literature as dogmas are to 
the church — the occupation with trivial things by trivial minds. 

A beginner is generally dazzled by the discussion of tech- 
nique — the technique of the novel, of the drama, of music and 
of acting on the stage. He doesn’t realize that the technique of 
writing has nothing to do with the birth of an author, and the 
technique of acting has nothing to do with the birth of a great 
actor. He doesn’t even suspect that there is such a thing as per- 
sonality, which is the foundation of all success in art and litera- 

( b ) The Appreciation of Literature 

When one reads a number of good authors and feels that one 
author describes things very vividly, that another shows great 
tenderness of delicacy, a third expresses things exquisitely, a 
fourth has an indescribable charm, a fifth one’s writing is like 
good whiskey, a sixth one’s is like mellow wine, he should not 
be afraid to say that he likes them and appreciates them, if 
only his appreciation is genuine. After such a wide experience in 
reading, he has the proper experiential basis for knowing what 
are mildness, mellowness, strength, power, brilliance, pungency, 
delicacy, and charm. When he has tasted all these flavors, then 


he knows what is good literature without reading a single 

The first rule of a student of literature is to learn to sample 
different flavors. The best flavor is mildness and mellowness, 
but is most difficult for a. writer to attain. Between mildness 
and mere flatness there is only a very thin margin. 

A writer whose thoughts lack depth and originality may try 
to write a simple style and end up by being insipid. Only fresh 
fish may be cooked in its own juice; stale fish must be flavored 
with anchovy sauce and pepper and mustard — the more the 

A good writer is like the sister of Yang Kueifei, who could 
go to see the Emperor himself without powder and rouge. All 
the other beauties in the palace required them. This is the reason 
why there are so few writers who dare to write in simple 

(c) Style and Thought 

Writing is good or bad, depending on its charm and flavor, 
or lack of them. For this charm there can be no rules. Charm 
rises from one’s writing as smoke rises from a pipe-bowl, or a 
cloud rises from a hill-top, not knowing whither it is going. The 
best style is that of “sailing clouds and flowing water,” like the 
prose of Su Tungp’o. 

Style is a compound of language, thought and personality. 
Some styles are made exclusively of language. 

Very rarely does one find clear thoughts clothed in unclear 
language. Much more often does one find unclear thoughts 
expressed clearly. Such a style is clearly unclear. 

Clear thoughts expressed in unclear language is the style of 
a confirmed bachelor. He never has to explain anything to a 
wife. E.g., Immanuel Kant. Even Samuel Butler often gets so 

A man’s style is always colored by his “literary lover.” He 
grows to be like him more and more in ways of thinking and 
methods of expression. That is the only way a style can be 
cultivated by a beginner. In later life, one finds one’s own style 
by finding one’s own self. 

One never learns anything from a book when he hates the 
author. Would that school teachers would bear this fact in 


A man’s character is partly born, and so is his style. The 
other part is just contamination. 

A man without a favorite author is a lost soul. He remains 
an unimpregnated ovum, an unfertilized pistil. One’s favorite 
author or literary lover is pollen for his soul. 

A favorite author exists in the world for every man, only he 
hasn’t taken the trouble to find him. 

A book is like a picture of life or of a city. There are readers 
who look at pictures of New York or Paris, but never see New 
York or Paris itself. The wise man reads both books and life 
itself. The universe is one big book, and life is one big school. 

A good reader turns an author inside out, like a beggar 
turning his coat inside out in search of fleas. 

Some authors provoke their readers constandy and pleasandy 
like a beggar’s coat full of fleas. An itch is a great thing. 

The best way of studying any subject is to begin by reading 
books taking an unfavorable point of view with regard to it. In 
that way one is sure of accepting no humbug. After having 
read an author unfavorable to the subject, he is better prepared 
to read more favorable authors. That is how a critical mind can 
be developed. 

A writer always has an instinctive interest in words as such. 
Every word has a life and a personality, usually not recorded 
by a dictionary, except one like the Concise or Pocket Oxford 

A good dictionary is always readable, like the P.O.D . 

There are two mines of language, a new one and an old one. 
The old mine is in the books, and the new one is in the 
language of common people. Second-rate artists will dig in the 
old mines, but only first-rate artists can get something out of 
the new mine. Ores from the old mine are already smelted, but 
those from the new mine are not. 

Wang Ch’ung (A. D. 27-c. 100) distinguished between “spe- 
cialists” and “scholars,” and again between “writers” and 
“thinkers.” I think a specialist graduates into a scholar when his 
knowledge broadens, and a writer graduates into a thinker 
when his wisdom deepens. 

A “scholar’s” writing consists of borrowings from other 
scholars, and the more authorities and sources he quotes, the 
more of a “scholar” he appears. A thinker’s writing consists of 
borrowings from ideas in his own intestines, and the greater 


thinker a man is, the more he depends on his own intestinal 

A scholar is like a raven feeding its young that spits out 
what it has eaten from the mouth. A thinker is like a silkworm 
which gives us not mulberry leaves, but silk. 

There is a period of gestation of ideas before writing, like 
the period of gestation of an embryo in its mother’s womb 
before birth. When one’s favorite author has kindled the spark 
in one’s soul, and set up a current of live ideas in him, that is 
the “impregnation.” When a man rushes into print before his 
ideas go through this period of gestation, that is diarrhoea, 
mistaken for birth pains. When a writer sells his conscience and 
writes things against his convictions, that is artificial abortion, 
and the embryo is always stillborn. When a writer feels violent 
convulsions like an electric storm in his head, and he doesn’t 
feel happy until he gets the ideas out of his system and puts 
them down on paper and feels an immense relief, that is 
literary birth. Hence a writer feels a maternal affection toward 
his literary product as a mother feels toward her baby. Hence a 
writing is always better when it is one’s own, and a woman is 
always lovelier when she is somebody else’s wife. 

The pen grows sharper with practice like a cobbler’s awl, 
gradually acquiring the sharpness of an embroidery needle. But 
one’s ideas grow more and more rounded, like the views one 
sees when mounting from a lower to a higher peak. 

When a writer hates a person and is thinking of taking 
up his pen to write a bitter invective against him, but has not 
yet seen his good side, he should lay down the pen again, 
because he is not yet qualified to write a bitter invective 
against the person. 

( d) The School of Self-Expression 

The so-called “School of Hsingling ” started by the three 
Yuan brothers 4 at the end of the sixteenth century, or the so- 
called “Kungan School” (Kungan being the native district of 
the brothers) is a school of self-expression. Using means one’s 
“personal nature,” and ling means one’s “soul” or “vital spirit.” 

Writing is but the expression of one’s own nature or charac- 

* Yuan Hungtao (usually known as Yuan Chunglang), the second brother, is 
considered the leader of the school. 


ter and the play of his vital spirit. The so-called “divine af- 
flatus” is but the flow of this vital spirit, and is actually caused 
by an overflow of hormones in the blood. 

In looking at an old master or reading an ancient author, 
we are but watching the flow of his vital spirit. Sometimes 
when this flow of energy runs dry or one’s spirits are low, even 
the writing of the best calligraphist or writer lacks spirit or 

This “divine afflatus” comes in the morning when one has 
had a good sleep with sweet dreams and wakes up by himself. 
Then after his cup of morning tea, he reads the papers and 
finds no disturbing news and slowly walks into his study and 
sits before a bright window and a clean desk, while outside 
there is a pleasant sun and a gentle breeze. At this moment, he 
can write good essays, good poems, good letters, paint good 
paintings and write good inscriptions on them. 

The thing called “self” or “personality” consists of a bundle 
of limbs, muscles, nerves, reason, sentiments, culture, under- 
standing, experience, and prejudices. It is partly nature and 
partly culture, pardy born and partly cultivated. One’s nature is 
determined at the time of his birth, or even before it. Some are 
naturally hard-hearted and mean; others are naturally frank 
and straightforward and chivalrous and big-hearted; and again 
others are naturally soft and weak in character, or given over to 
worries. Such things are in one’s “marrow bones” and the best 
teacher or wisest parent cannot change one’s type.of personality. 
Again other qualities are acquired after birth through education 
and experience, but insofar as one’s thoughts and ideas and im- 
pressions come from the most diverse sources and different 
streams of influence at different periods of his life, his ideas, 
prejudices and points of view present a most bewildering in- 
consistency. One loves dogs and is afraid of cats, while another 
loves cats and is afraid of dogs. Hence the study of types of hu- 
man personality is the most complicated of all sciences. 

The School of Self-Expression demands that we express in 
writing only our own thoughts and feelings, our genuine loves, 
genuine hatreds, genuine fears and genuine hobbies. These will 
be expressed without any attempt to hide the bad from the 
good, without fear of being ridiculed by the world, and without 
fear of contradicting the ancient sages or contemporary authori- 


Writers of the School of Self-Expression like a writer’s most 
characteristic paragraph in an essay, his most characteristic sen- 
tence in a paragraph, and his most characteristic expression in a 
sentence. In describing or narrating a scene, a sentiment or an 
event, he deals with the scene that he himself sees, the sentiment 
that he himself feels and the event as he himself understands it. 
What conforms to this rule is literature and what does not con- 
form to it is not literature. 

The girl Lin Taiyii in Red Chamber Dream belonged also 
to the School of Self-Expression when she said, “When a poet 
has a good line, never mind whether the musical tones of words 
fall in with the established pattern or not.” 

In its love for genuine feelings, the School of Self-Expression 
has a natural contempt for decorativeness of style. Hence it al- 
ways stands for the pure and mild flavor in writing. It accepts 
the dictum of Mencius that “the sole goal of writing is express- 

Literary beauty is only expressiveness. 

The dangers of this school are that a writer’s style may de- 
generate into plainness (Yuan Chunglang), or he may develop 
eccentricity of ideas (Chin Shengt’an), or his ideas may differ 
violently from those of established authorities (Li Chowu). That 
is why the School of Self-Expression was so hated by the Con- 
fucian critics. But as a matter of fact, it is these original writers 
who saved Chinese thought and literature from absolute uni- 
formity and death. They are bound to come into their own in 
the next few decades. 

Chinese orthodox literature expressly aimed at expressing 
the minds of the sages and not the minds of the authors and 
was therefore dead; the hsingling school of literature aims at 
expressing the minds of the authors and not the minds of the 
sages, and is therefore alive. 

There is a sense of dignity and independence in writers of 
this school which prevents them from going out of their way to 
say things to shock people. If Confucius and Mencius happen 
to agree with them and their conscience approves, they will not 
go out of their way to disagree with the Sages; but if their con- 
science disapproves, they will not give Confucius and Mencius 
the right of way. They can be neither bribed with gold nor 
threatened with ostracism. 


Genuine literature is but a sense of wonder at the universe 
and at human life. 

He who keeps his vision sane and clear will have always this 
sense of wonder, and therefore has no need to distort the truth 
in order to make it seem wonderful. The ideas and points of 
view of writers of this school always seem so new and strange 
only because readers are so used to the distorted vision. 

A writer’s weaknesses are what endear him to a hsingling 
critic. All writers of the hsingling school are against imitation 
of the ancients or the moderns and against a literary technique 
of rules. The Yuan brothers believed in “letting one’s mouth 
and wrist go, resulting naturally in good form” and held that 
“the important thing in literature is genuineness.” Li Liweng be^ 
lieved that “the important thing in literature is charm and 
interest.” Yuan Tsets’ai believed that “there is no technique in 
writing.” An early Sung writer, Huang Shanku, believed that 
“the lines and form of writing come quite accidentally, like the 
holes in wood eaten by insects.” 

(e) The Familiar Style 

A writer in the familiar style speaks in an unbuttoned mood. 
He completely exposes his weaknesses, and is therefore dis- 

The relationship between writer and reader should not be 
one between an austere school master and his pupils, but one 
between familiar friends. Only in this way can warmth be gen- 

He who is afraid to use an “I” in his writing will never 
make a good writer. 

I love a liar more than a speaker of truth, and an indiscreet 
liar more than a discreet one. His indiscretions are a sign of his 
love for his readers. 

I trust an indiscreet fool and suspect a lawyer. 

The indiscreet fool is a nation’s best diplomat. He wins 
people’s hearts. 

My idea of a good magazine is a fortnightly, where we bring 
a group of good talkers together in a small room once in a fort- 
night and let them chat together. The readers listen to their 
chats, which last just about two hours. It is like having a good 
evening chat, and after that the reader goes to bed, and next 



morning when he gets up to attend to his duties as a bank clerk 
or accountant or a school principal posting notices to the stu- 
dents, he feels that the flavor of last night’s chat still lingers 
around his cheeks. 

There are restaurants for giving grand dinners in a hall with 
gold-framed mirrors, and there are small restaurants designed 
for a little drink. All I want is to bring together two or three in- 
timate friends and have a little drink, and not go to the dinners 
of rich and important people. But the pleasure we have in a 
small restaurant, eating and drinking and chatting and teasing 
each other and overturning cups and spilling wine on dresses is 
something which people at the grand dinners don’t understand 
and cannot even “miss.” 

There are rich men’s gardens and mansions, but there are 
also little lodges in the mountains. Although sometimes these 
mountain lodges are furnished with taste and refinement, the 
atmosphere is quite different from the rich men’s mansions 
with vermillion gates and green windows and a platoon of 
servants and maids standing around. When one enters the door, 
he does not hear the barking of faithful dogs and he does not 
see the face of snobbish butlers and gatekeepers, and when he 
leaves, he doesn’t see a pair of “unchaste stone lions” outside its 
gate. The situation is perfectly described by a writer of the sev- 
enteenth century : “It is as if Chou, Ch’eng, Chang and Chu 6 
are sitting together and bowing to each other in the Hall of 
Fuhsi, and suddenly there come Su Tungp’o and Tungfang Su 
who break into the room half naked and without shoes, and 
they begin to clap their hands and joke with one another. The 
onlookers will probably stare in amazement, but these gentle- 
men look at each other in silent understanding.” 

(f) What is Beauty? 

The thing called beauty in literature and beauty in things 
depends so much on change and movement and is based on life. 
What lives always has change and movement, and what has 
change and movement naturally has beauty. How can there be 
set rules for literature or writing, when we see that mountain 
cliffs and ravines and streams possess a beauty of waywardness 
and ruggedness far above that of canals, and yet they were 

5 Sung doctrinaires. 


formed without the calculations of an architect? The constel- 
lations of stars are the wen or literature of the skies, and the 
famous mountains and great rivers are the wen or literature of 
the earth. The wind blows and the clouds change and we have 
the pattern of a brocade; the frost comes and leaves fall and 
we have the color of autumn. Now do the stars moving around 
their orbits in the firmament ever think of their appreciation 
by men on earth? And yet the Heavenly Dog and the Cow- 
herd are perceived by us by an accident. The crust of the earth 
shrinks and stretches and throws up mountains and forms deep 
seas. Did the earth consciously create the Five Sacred Moun- 
tains for us to worship? And yet the T’aihua and the K’uen- 
luen Mountains dash along with their magnificent rhythm and 
the Jade Maiden and the Fairy Boy stand around us on awe- 
inspiring peaks, apparently for our enjoyment. These are but 
free and easy strokes of the Creator, the great art master. Can 
clouds, which sail forth from the hill-tops and meet the lashing 
of furious mountain winds, have time to think of their petti- 
coats and scarves for us to look at? And yet they arrange them- 
selves, now like the scales of fish, now like the pattern of bro- 
cade, and now like racing dogs and roaring lions and dancing 
phoenixes and gamboling unicorns, like a literary masterpiece. 
Can autumn trees that are feeling the pinch of heat and cold 
and the devastation of frost, and that are busily occupied in slow- 
ing down their breath and conserving their energy, have time to 
paint and powder themselves for the traveller on the ancient 
highway to look at? And yet they seem so cool and pure and 
sad and forlorn, and far superior to the paintings of Wang Wei 
and Mi Fei. 

And so every living thing in the universe has its literary 
beauty. The beauty of a dried-up vine is greater than the calli- 
graphy of Wang Hsichih, and the austerity of an overhanging 
cliff is more imposing than the stone inscriptions on Chang 
Menglung’s tomb. Therefore we know that the wen or literary 
beauty of things arises from their nature, and those that fulfill 
their nature clothe themselves in wen or beautiful lines. There- 
fore wen, or beauty of line and form, is intrinsic and not ex- 
trinsic. The horse’s hoofs are designed for a quick gallop, the 
tiger’s claws are designed for pouncing on its prey; the stork’s 
legs are designed for wading across swamps, and the bear’s 
paws are designed for walking on ice. Does the horse, the tiger, 


the stork or the bear ever think of its beauty of form and pro- 
portions ? All it tries to do is function in life and adopt a proper 
posture for movement. But from our point of view, we see the 
horse’s hoofs, the tiger’s claws, the stork’s legs and the bear’s 
paws have a striking beauty, either in their fullness of contour 
and suggestion of power, or in their slenderness and strength 
of line, or in their clearness of outline, or in the ruggedness of 
their joints. Again the elephant’s paws are like the lishu style 
of writing, the lion’s mane is like the feipo, fighting snakes 
write wonderful wriggling ts’aoshu (“grass script”), and float- 
ing dragons write chuanshu (“seal characters”), the cow’s legs 
resemble pafen (comparatively stout and symmetrical writing), 
and the deer resembles hsiaoI(ai (elegant “small script”). Their 
beauty comes from their posture or movement, and their bodily 
shapes are the result of their bodily functions, and this is also 
the secret of beauty in writing. When the shih or posture of 
movement requires it, it may not be repressed, and when the 
posture or movement does not require it, it must stop. Hence 
a literary masterpiece is like a stretch of nature itself, well- 
formed in its formlessness, and its charm and beauty come by 
accident. For this thing we call shih is the beauty of move- 
ment, and not the beauty of static proportions. Everything that 
lives and moves has its shih and therefore has its beauty, force, 
and wen, or beauty of form and line. 

Chapter Thirteen 

I. The Restoration of Religion 

SO many people presume to know God and what God approves 
and God disapproves that it is impossible to take up this subject 
without opening oneself to attack as sacrilegious by some and as 
a prophet by others. We human creatures who individually are less 
than a billionth part of the earth’s crust, which is less than a bil- 
lionth part of the great universe, presume to know God! 

Yet no philosophy of life is complete, no conception of man’s 
spiritual life is adequate, unless we bring ourselves into a satis- 
factory and harmonious relation with the life of the universe around 
us. Man is important enough; he is the most important topic of our 
studies: that is the essence of humanism. Yet man lives in a mag- 
nificent universe, quite as wonderful as the man himself, and he 
who ignores the greater world around him, its origin and its destiny, 
cannot be said to have a truly satisfying life. 

The trouble with orthodox religion is that, in its process of his- 
torical development, it got mixed up with a number of things strictly 
outside religion’s moral realm — physics, geology, astronomy, crimi- 
nology, the conception of sex and woman. If it had confined itself 
to the realm of the moral conscience, the work of re-orientation 
would not be so enormous today. It is easier to destroy a pet notion 
of “Heaven” and “Hell” than to destroy the notion of God. 

On the other hand, science opens up to the modern Christian a 
newer and deeper sense of the mystery of the universe and a new 
conception of matter as a convertible term with energy, and as for 
God Himself, in the words of Sir James Jeans, “The universe seems 
to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine.” Mathe- 
matical calculation itself proves the existence of the mathematically 
incalculable. Religion will have to retreat and instead of saying so 
many things in the realm of natural sciences as it used to do, simply 
acknowledge that they are none of religion’s business; much less 



should it allow the validity of spiritual experience to depend on 
totally irrelevant topics, like whether the age of man is 4,000 odd 
years or a million, or whether the earth is flat, or round, or shaped 
like a collapsible tea-table, or borne aloft by Hindu elephants or 
Chinese turtles. Religion should, and will, confine itself to the moral 
realm, the realm of the moral conscience, which has a dignity of its 
own comparable in every sense to the study of flowers, the fishes 
and the stars. St. Paul performed the first surgical operation upon 
Judaism and by separating cuisine (eating hoofed animals) from 
religion, immensely benefited it. Religion stands to gain immensely 
by being separated not only from cuisine, but also from geology 
and comparative anatomy. Religion must cease to be a dabbler in 
astronomy and geology and a preserver of ancient folkways. Let 
religion respectfully keep its mouth shut when teachers of biology 
are talking, and it will seem infinitely less silly and gain immeasur- 
ably in the respect of mankind. 

Such religion as there can be in modern life, every individual 
will have to salvage from the churches for himself. There is always 
a possibility of surrendering ourselves to the Great Spirit in an at- 
mosphere of ritual and worship as one kneels praying without words 
and looking at the stained-glass windows, in spite of all that one 
may think of the theological dogmas. In this sense, worship becomes 
a true aesthetic experience, an aesthetic experience that is one’s own, 
very similar in fact to the experience of viewing a sun setting behind 
an outline of trees on hills. For that man, religion is a final fact of 
consciousness, for it will be an aesthetic experience very much akin 
to poetry. 

But what contempt he must have for the churches, as they are 
at present. For the God that he worships will not be one that can 
be beseeched for daily small presents. He will not command the 
wind to blow north when he sails north, and command the wind to 
blow south when he sails south. To thank God for a good wind is 
sheer impudence, and selfishness also, for it implies that God does 
not love the people sailing south when he, the important individual, 
is sailing north. It will be a communion of spirits without one party 



trying to beg a favor of the other. He will not be able to compre- 
hend the meaning of the churches as they are. He will wonder at 
the strange metamorphosis that religion has gone through. He will 
be puzzled when he tries to define religions in their present forms. 
Is religion a glorification of the status quo with mystic emotion ? Or 
is it certain moral truths so mystified and decorated and camou- 
flaged as to make it possible for a priestcraft to make a living? 
Doesn’t revelation stand in the same relation to religion as “a secret 
patented process” stands in relation to certain advertised nostrums? 
Or is religion a juggling with the invisible and the unknowable 
because the invisible and the unknowable lend themselves so con- 
veniently to juggling? Is faith to be based on knowledge, or does 
faith only begin where knowledge ends? Or is religion a baseball 
that Sister Aimee McPherson can hit with a baseball bat right into 
an audience — something that Joe can catch and “get” in the way 
that he catches a baseball ? Or is religion the preservation of Aryan, 
Nordic blood, or is it merely opposition to divorce and birth control 
and calling every social reformer a “Red” and a “Communist?” 
Did Christ really have to receive Tolstoy in his arms in a blazing 
snowstorm after he was excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox 
Church? Or is Jesus going to stand outside Bishop Manning’s cathe- 
dral window and beckon to the rich men’s children in their pews 
and repeat His gentle request, “Suffer little children to come 
unto me?” 

So we are left with the uncomfortable and yet, for me, strangely 
satisfying feeling that what religion is left in our lives will be a very 
much more simplified feeling of reverence for the beauty and gran- 
deur and mystery of life, with its responsibilities, but will be 
deprived of the good old, glad certainties and accretions which 
theology has accumulated and laid over its surface. Religion in this 
form is simple and, for many modern men, sufficient. The spiritual 
theocracy of the Middle Ages is definitely receding and as for per- 
sonal immortality, which is the second greatest reason for the appeal 
of religion, many men today are quite content to be just dead when 
they die. 


Our preoccupation with immortality has something pathological 
about it. That man desires immortality is understandable, but were 
it not for the influence of the Christian religion, it should never have 
assumed such a disproportionately large share of our attention. In- 
stead of being a fine reflection, a noble fancy, lying in the poetic 
realm between fiction and fact, it has become a deadly earnest mat- 
ter, and in the case of monks, the thought of death, or life after it, 
has become the main occupation of this life. As a matter of fact, 
most people on the other side of fifty, whether pagans or Christians, 
are not afraid of death, which is the reason why they can’t be scared 
by, and are thinking less of, Heaven and Hell. We find them very 
often chattering glibly about their epitaphs and tomb designs and 
the comparative merits of cremation. By that I do not mean only 
those who are sure that they are going to heaven, but also many 
who take the realistic view of the situation that when they die, life 
is extinguished like light from a candle. Many of the finest minds 
of today have expressed their disbelief in personal immortality and 
are quite unconcerned about it — H. G. Wells, Albert Einstein, Sir 
Arthur Keith and a host of others — but I do not think it requires 
first-class minds to conquer this fear of death. 

Many people have substituted for this personal immortality, im- 
mortality of other kinds, much more convincing — the immortality 
of the race, and the immortality of work and influence. It is suf- 
ficient that when we die, the work we leave behind us continues to 
influence others and play a part, however small, in the life of the 
community in which we live. We can pluck the flower and throw 
its petals to the ground, and yet its subtle fragrance remains in the 
air. It is a better, more reasonable and more unselfish kind of im- 
mortality. In this very real sense, we may say that Louis Pasteur, 
Luther Burbank and Thomas Edison are still living among us. 
What if their bodies are dead, since “body” is nothing but an ab- 
stract generalization for a constantly changing combination of 
chemical constituents! Man begins to see his own life as a drop in 
an ever flowing river and is glad to contribute his part to the great 



stream of life. If he were only a little less selfish, he should be quite 
contented with that. 

II. Why I Am a Pagan 

Religion is always an individual, personal thing. Every person 
must work out his own views of religion, and if he is sincere, God 
will not blame him, however it turns out. Every man’s religious ex- 
perience is valid for himself, for, as I have said, it is not something 
that can be argued about. But the story of an honest soul struggling 
with religious problems, told in a sincere manner, will always be of 
benefit to other people. That is why, in speaking about religion, I 
must get away from generalities, and tell my personal story. 

I am a pagan. The statement may be taken to imply a revolt 
against Christianity; and yet revolt seems a harsh word and does 
not correctly describe the state of mind of a man who has passed 
through a very gradual evolution, step by step, away from Chris- 
tianity, during which he clung desperately, with love and piety, 
to a series of tenets which against his will were slipping away from 
him. Because there was never any hatred, therefore, it is impossible 
to speak of a rebellion. 

As I was born in a pastor’s family and at one time prepared for 
the Christian ministry, my natural emotions were on the side of 
religion during the entire struggle rather than against it. In this 
conflict of emotions and understanding, I gradually arrived at a posi- 
tion where I had, for instance, definitely renounced the doctrine of 
redemption, a position which could most simply be described as 
that of a pagan. It was, and still is, a condition of belief concerning 
life and the universe in which I feel natural and at ease, without 
having to be at war with myself. The process came as naturally as 
the weaning of a child or the dropping of a ripe apple on the 
ground; and when the time came for the apple to drop, I would not 
interfere with its dropping. In Taoistic phraseology, this is but to 
live in the Tao, and in Western phraseology it is but being sincere 
with oneself and with the universe, according to one’s lights. I be- 


lieve no one can be natural and happy unless he is intellectually 
sincere with himself, and to be natural is to be in heaven. To me, 
being a pagan is just being natural. 

“To be a pagan” is no more than a phrase, like “to be a Christian.” 
It is no more than a negative statement, for to the average reader, 
to be a pagan means only that one is not a Christian; and, since 
“being a Christian” is a very broad and ambiguous term, the mean- 
ing of “not being a Christian” is equally ill-defined. It is all the 
worse when one defines a pagan as one who does not believe in re- 
ligion or in God, for we have yet to define what is meant by “God” 
or by the “religious attitude toward life.” Great pagans have always 
had a deeply reverent attitude toward nature. We shall therefore 
have to take the word in its conventional sense and mean by it 
simply a man who does not go to church (except for an aesthetic